Birds of a Feather
From the August 1, 2007 Moscow Times
August 1, 2007
by Andrei A. Piontkovsky
In the latest interview given by former security services officer Andrei Lugovoi, whose extradition on suspicion of murder is being sought by Britain, there was a remarkable moment that doesn't seem to have been fully appreciated.
Lugovoi, who was somewhat reserved but, at the same time, beaming with pride, mentioned that when he is seen in public, he usually finds himself surrounded by people who want to shake his hand, congratulate him on his valor or ask for his autograph.
"Well, haven't you thought about a career in politics?" the interviewer asked. It is a pity he did not pursue this topic in more detail because it certainly deserves the attention.
Surprisingly enough, Lugovoi seems not to have questioned why Russians were so eager to get his autograph. Were they showing solidarity with a victim unjustly hounded by the Crown Prosecution Service?
Give me a break! When did Russians ever ask victims for their autographs? I have myself been attracting the interest of the Prosecutor General's Office for several months now and have yet to encounter a single autograph hunter. In Russia, you get asked for your autograph if you have made it, if you are a proper hero -- a hockey player, a cosmonaut or a war hero.
The list of unspeakable crimes allegedly committed in the course of Alexander Litvinenko's brief life grows longer every day. The animosity toward Litvinenko among self-righteous Russian patriots has reached a very high level; they relish the fact that this traitor received such a severe form of punishment as payback for his sedition. Of course, this should not be interpreted to mean that these patriots agree with the Crown Prosecutor Service's official accusations of who stands behind the Litvinenko killing.
A new species of "homo putinicus" has been created in large part thanks to the meticulously professional work of the television propaganda machine. Consequently, homo putinicus feels a great sense of pride in Lugovoi's achievements.
At the same time, it feels deep indignation regarding the fierce campaign in the West unleashed against Lugovoi by the slanderers of Russia. Homo putinicus fiercely defends its position on these issues without the slightest understanding of its inherent self-contradiction.
This entire episode speaks to the mystery of the Russian "holistic" mentality, on which Slavophiles and Eurasians expounded at such length for so many years and which has proved so difficult for foreigners to understand.
But returning to the interviewer's question: Is this not the ideal solution to the problem of President Vladimir Putin's heir, which is threatening to divide the nation's elite?
If we compare two potential presidential candidates, Lugovoi in 2007 and Putin in 1999, the number of obvious similarities is astounding: the same modest social background; the same KGB alma mater; a similar style of speaking, which at times includes the use of criminal jargon; the same mentality; and the same hatred toward "enemies of the people."
In addition, there is another, highly significant shared circumstance: Both of them at the start of their political careers were largely indebted -- perhaps even totally indebted -- to Boris Berezovsky. Moreover, both Lugovoi and Putin subsequently had serious fallouts with Berezovsky.
Would the sybaritic, globe-trotting Lugovoi really want to take over the reins and put on Monomakh's Cap? After all, the job of president is very difficult and exhausting. Look at how Putin's face changed over the course of the last eight years as president. Lugovoi's face has also changed markedly during the last eight months of news conferences.
Whatever the case may be, Lugovoi and Putin are two living portraits of Dorian Gray -- two faces of the new Russia that is "getting off its knees."
Andrei Piontkovsky is a visiting fellow with Hudson Institute.