Those Russian Spies

I don’t have any difficulty in believing that the FBI really have discovered a colony of Russian sleeper spies in the United States.

Spying is an industry. Most of its activity is pointless, counter-productive and misdirected. Those employed in it have the strongest urge to strengthen and perpetuate their own industry. They are, worldwide, shielded from public scrutiny of their efficiency, and it is easy to persuade politicians to dole out more and more funds. Politicians are flattered to see papers marked “Top Secret” and their vanity is stoked by knowing about things happening that the public is not allowed to know about. It gives them a feeling of power.

But the extraordinary question is why the FBI would, after years of surveillance, pull the plug exactly now? A spy ring you have under complete surveillance and whose communications you have decoded is the most valuable asset imaginable. Simply think what could be learnt of Russia’s intentions towards the US from decoded instructions to these agents over the years. Think what “traitors” may have been revealed, with whom agents may have been asked to make contact. Why on earth would this priceless asset be thrown away?

Of course, for the long term future of their industry, spies are heavily dependent on the perception of an “enemy”. Perhaps there was concern that the perception of a viable enemy was slipping, so anti-Russian public and political sentiment needed to be stoked. Spies, of course, are not the only ones whose livelihood depends upon poor relations with an “enemy”. Obama’s pursuit of arms reduction negotiations with Medvedev is worrying the defence industry, Now what might cause domestic political problems for arms reduction negotiations with Russia?

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Russia Still Moves Backwards

Putin’s Russia continues to move smartly in the wrong direction. Interesting article in the Guardian here:

Russia’s ruling political party is gathering academics to draw up a uniform textbook presenting a party-approved version of Russian history and seeking to downplay the horrors of the Soviet era.

“We understand that the school is a unique social institution that forms all citizens,” Irina Yarovaya, the deputy head of the Duma’s constitutional law committee, told a meeting of 20 party members and academics today.

“We need a united society. We need a united textbook.”

The move comes amid a mass ideological project, promoted by the United Russia party, seeking to build a national identity on the glories of its second world war victory, turning a blind eye to some of the crimes committed in the Soviet Union

That is of course the Great Patriotic War that only started in 1941. It is already the case that the Stalin/Hitler pact and invasion of Poland in 1939 are not taught in Russian schools.

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Gay Pride in Moscow

Warm praise to Nikolai Alekseev and the other organisers of today’s Gay Pride mini-march in Moscow. Having been banned for the last five years by Mayor Luzhkov, Putin and Medvedev, and after an appalling catalogue of political violence and persecution, activists managed to hold a ten minute street demo in Moscow today with nobody injured or arrested. This was achieved by posting false trails all across the web as to where it would be, and by activists buying new clean mobile phones in the last day to organise it.

Many congratulations also to Peter Tatchell, who went across to help and has become a tremendous advocate of human rights worldwide. Peter said of the banning of the march:

“It is the latest of many suppressions of civil liberties that happen in supposedly democratic Russia. Many other protests are also denied and repressed, not just gay ones. Autocracy rules under President Medvedev,”

It is also worth noting that the British Embassy refused to help, including refusing to host a gay social on Embassy premises to mark Moscow gay pride day. That is an appalling failure – typical of the FCO – to show support for the rights we are supposed to espouse.

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Death of Polish Katyn Delegation

A Head of State has a symbolic importance for the nation, that transcends the personalityand politics of the individual in office. I am therefore very sorry for the Polish people at the loss of President Kaczynski and the Polish delegation in the air crash at Smolensk.

Looking at the list of victims, I knew at least five of them, though not colse friends, from my time in the British Embassy in Warsaw, which makes the tragedy more real to me.

The massacre at Katyn was one of the most dreadful chapters in Poland’s tragic history. It was not just a massacre of 22,000 soldiers – it was a determined attempt by Stalin to wipe out the entire Polish officer class, as a step towards eliminating Poland’s indigenous leadership potential.

You have to understand Polish history to fully guage the significance of this. In the eighteenth century Poland was wiped off the map in successive partitions by Austria, Prussia and Russia. For two and a half centuries the Polish nation disappeared from Europe. Poles werensplit between different Empires, with Poles expected to fight Poles on their new masters’ behalf. A brief period of existence under Napoleon helped keep Polish identity alive – and along with the Chopin story sparked a lasting attachment to France..

So when Poland reemerged from the mists of time – to quote Norman Davies – in 1918 as a nation again, it was a nation with a sense of the precariousness of its own existence, which was to be strengthened by the hard but succesful battles against Soviet invasion in 1921.

It was only 18 years later, and Poland had only existed anew for 21 years, when Stalin and Hitler treacherously invaded Poland and partitioned it yet again. Britian’s declaration of war was no practical help to the Poles. As Poland was fighting for its very existence, even the least warlike had signed up for the hopeless fight against both Hitler and Stalin, so the 22,000 Polish officers among Stalin’s prisoners of war were a broad cross section of Poland’s educated classes.

Stalin’s decision to massacre them was an attempt to eradicate the very idea of an independent Poland.

When I was in Uzbekistan I was astonsihed to find that in Uzbek schools and universities the Stalin-Hitler pact had been eradicated from the history books. That is true today. They are told the “Great Patriotic War” started inn 1941. The Soviet invasion of Poland is a banned subject.

Since Putin’s new brand of Russian nationalism, the Stalin/Hitler pact has again diasppeared from Russian school books, although it is not formally a banned subject and is taught at some universities. But Putin – who of course is a product of the Soviet secret services – has discouraged at every turn openness about the crimes of Stalin, and archives on the subject have again been closed to the public.

The Poles were therefore quite right to press the Russians hard on Katyn, and you can be sure that the ceremonies would not have been given much prominence in Russian media. The fascinating thing now will be to monitor just how much depth the Russian media give to explaining just what President Kaczynski was on his way to Russia for

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Putin Ratchets Up The Pressure on Ukraine

Russia has caused a major crisis throughout much of Europe by radically reducing gas supplies. This was ordered personally by Putin, and is not really about Ukraine’s unpaid gas bill at all. It is about Putin’s desire to force Ukraine back into the Soviet orbit. On the whole, his efforts to regain Russian control over the Former Soviet Union are remarkably succesful.

All of this was entirely predictable:

Only normal business is the last thing Gazprom is involved in. Gazprom is perhaps the most important tool in Putin’s armoury. He keeps a close eye on it. The Chairman of Gazprom is Dmitri Medvedev, First Deputy Prime Minister, close Putin ally and a possible Putin choice for his successor. The Trade, Energy and Foreign Ministers are all represented on the board at ministerial level.

Gazprom has been the instrument by which Putin has reasserted Russian hegemony over the Former Soviet Union, blackmailing European ex-Soviet countries by cutting off energy supplies in winter, and buying up the Central Asian ex-Soviet countries by taking over the heart of their economies.

More surprisingly, Gazprom is key to Putin’s harsh internal control. Mr Kuprianov often appears on the nation’s TV screens, which is easily explained. A year after taking power, Putin decided to stamp out independent media in Russia. When NTV, the only independent national TV channel, was closed down in 2001, it was Gazprom Media who took it over and turned it into a propaganda arm of the Kremlin. Gazprom went on to buy up Russia’s two large independent national newspapers. The last significant remaining one, Kommersant, was bought last November personally by the sinister Uzbek oligarch Alisher Usmanov, chairman of Gazprominvest Holdings. The Editor-in-Chief was immediately sacked while the longstanding defence correspomdent, Igor Safronov, mysteriously fell out of a window three months later

June 1, 2007

Russian Journalist Murders, and Gazprom

I do urge you to read that article. Murders of journalists have intensified since. Putin always uses the Gazprom weapon during periods of freezing weather; this kills people as surely as military action. It is also extremely clever. European countries are already turning against Ukraine, particularly Putin’s poodle, Angela Merkel. As Putin pulls a struggling Ukraine back into his neo-Soviet orbit, Germany is giving it a push.

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The Balding Butt Plug

I have been offline for almost three weeks, and the reason is that I have been deeply depressed. I guess that it is time I came out as a lifelong sufferer from severe bipolar disorder, or manic depression as it was known when I was first diagnosed at Ninewells Hospital Dundee in 1978.

I have for almost all my adult life eschewed the chemical regulation the medical industry has so kindly proffered, and in general although very unpleasant to me, I have managed through self-will to control the swings as they affect others. The exception is when something depressing happens anyway and an adverse swing reinforces it.

I was very scared that the Government would use this condition to try to explain away the events in Murder in Samarkand as a result of my condition. In fact the government did indeed try to do that, by contacting a number of news editors across the media to inform them helpfully that I had a history of mental illness. In fact it is true that my illness affected the events in Murder in Samarkand, but only in the very limited sense that when they chose to attack me with numerous false accusations, the resulting depression hit me harder than it might have another. My employers, of course, were well aware that would happen.

As other bipolar sufferers, my principal symptom was in general the alternation of periods of unusual high energy with perods of lethargy. In consequence occasionally routine work would be a bit late. That was used as the basis of one of the accusations against me. It was of course more than balanced by longer periods of huge energy and creativity.

Anyway, enough of the past. I was depressed lately partly by the problems over getting the book published, but mostly by despair over the “Bailouts” in the US and UK. This incredible misuse of taxpayers’ money represents the biggest net redistribution of funds from the poor to the rich in all of human history. The lack of real analysis in any of the media is what plunged me in to gloom so deep it was not even much relieved by the death of Jeorg Haider. Incidentally a friend who is a retired member of MI6 texted me that Mossad killed Haider. I replied it was about time they did something useful.

Talking of people the World would be better off without, I see that Nathaniel Rothschild, escort of Gulnara Karimova,

is in the news. The deeply sad thing about this is that Rothschild, Karimov, Osborne, Mandelson et al inhabit the same sleazy space. But I would certainly believe Osborne over Rothschild. God made Nathaniel Rothschild that size to be a convenient butt-plug for Russian and Uzbek oligarchs.

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Russia/Georgia: Uncle Craig Answers Your Questions

Are We Entering A New Cold War?

Possibly. Although thankfully less people are now dying in Georgia, in diplomatic terms the crisis is in fact worsening fast. The formal US signing of the agreement to station missiles in Poland was rapidly followed by recognition by the Russian parliament of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Those are both major inflammatory acts for the other side, and it is difficult to see how the current administrations in Russia and USA can pull back on either the missiles or the recognitions.

More significantly, Russia announced it was increasing its troop numbers in the port of Poti. This effectively kills the six point peace treaty Russia signed. Almost certainly, Russia will argue that its commitment to withdraw troops from Georgia does not include Abkhazia or South Ossetia as it now views them as not part of Georgia. But Poti is not in Abkhazia or South Ossetia, so there is no figleaf of justification for the Russian occupation there. This is straightforward military aggression against a sovereign state.

Won’t The Oligarchs Rein Back Putin To Protect Their Financial Interests?

There is no doubt that the Russian and Western economies are now much more interlinked than during the Cold War. Russian commodities production, particularly oil, gas and metals and wheat, are essential to Western economies. Germany’s dependence on Russian gas for forty per cent of its electricity has a visible effect on German foreign policy and is the most striking example of the diplomatic effect of this integration. On the other side, Russia’s economic resurgence is almost entirely commodity driven and it still produces very little by way of manufactured goods for its own population. Most of these are imported from the West. The international tension has contributed to a 20% plunge in Moscow stock markets this year, and dipped sharply on the Georgia invasion.

Is this enough to prevent a cold war? In many ways, this is a subset of the question, is globalisation the end to war?

The answer I fear is no.

Take the Iraq war. Direct costs alone to the US taxpayer have spiralled to over a trillion dollars, while massive US government debt to fund it, and subsequent acceleration in the decline of the dollar, has been a major contributory factor to the global credit crunch. Economically it has been disastrous for the US population.

But it has not been disastrous for the people who fund George Bush. Oil prices have soared because of the Iraq war, and powerful oil companies have made excess profits totalling hundreds of billions. Very obviously, profits of the big armaments companies have also leapt substantially. The military and security services have also benefited from a massive increase of resources. Big oil, big arms companies, the military and security services – those are a government-swaying conglomeration of private interests with loads of money to buy politicians. That is true in both the US and Russia. It is a peculiar paradox of human society that those who benefit from war, hot or cold, are always able to get their hands on the levers of power much more readily than the bulk of the population, who lose out badly from the misallocation of resources.

Symbolically, Russia signaled yesterday it is turning away from the open economic path with a very significant announcement that it is resiling from several commitments needed for WTO membership.

Wasn’t Russia Provoked Into This Conflict?

Yes. The Georgian attempt to reclaim South Ossetia by force was foolish, even if provoked by South Ossetian shelling. It also appears to have been pretty vicious. But Russian claims of genocide are absolute rubbish. I have witnessed first hand the work of Human Rights Watch in several different parts of the Former Soviet Union, and been very impressed by their methods. They put the South Ossetian dead in the low scores, not the thousands. Of course that is still several score too many. But the Russian response has been grossly disproportionate. There are two key points of international law here. Georgian action was limited to its own sovereign territory. Russia invaded another country and failed the important test of proportionality.

But We Invaded Iraq, right?

Yes we did, and that was illegal too. But just because President Bush says Russia is in the wrong, it does not necessarily follow that Russia is not in the wrong, just as if President Bush said “The time is 10am” it does not necessarily follow that it isn’t (though I’d check, unless someone gave him a nice easy digital watch).

Kosovo is a very precise parallel. Serbia invaded a secessionist area of its sovereign territory, and NATO responded by attacking Serbia – killing many more people than the Russians did in Georgia. NATO would argue that proven genocidal tendencies of the Serb army made it necessary, and that has some weight in assessing proportionality. Nonetheless the NATO response was disproportionate. Most of NATO of course went on to recognise Kosovo as independent, just as Russia has South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Again, NATO being wrong then does not make Russia right now.

But Aren’t South Ossetia and Abkhazia Entitled To Their Independence?

I would argue yes, they are, if it is plainly the will of their population. I would argue the same of Chechnya, Dagestan, Kosovo and Scotland. But there lies the rub – the application of the accepted international law principle of self-determination of peoples, as it applies to separatist entities within a sovereign state, is the hottest dispute in international law. There is no doubt that the precedent of the break-up of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia had moved the law in favour of the separatists, but how far? Agreed separations like the Czech and Slovak are no problem, but there is no fixed law for a region wishing to separate against the wishes of the state it is in. Quite simply it depends on having the political clout to get the UN to agree.

North Cyprus is a de facto state which never managed to pull this off, and seems a good parallel for the likely future of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Many “Western” states are deeply wary of acknowledging separatists for their own internal reasons – Canada and Spain being good examples.

The Chechen case is important, because it illustrates both Putin’s extreme ruthlessness, and the fact that Russia has no principle on its side. Russia supports or opposes the rights of separatists purely as they benefit Putin’s aims to expand Russian influence.

Isn’t It All About Oil and Gas?

To quite a degree, yes. European powers have been trying to obtain a Trans-Caucasian pipeline which would enable Central Asian gas to pass to Europe without going through Russia, which currently has a monopoly of Eastern supply. Russia has been pressurising Georgia to block such a pipeline.

Georgia is just one pawn in the New Great Game of securing the Caucasus and Central Asian hydrocarbons. It is a game Putin has been winning hands down for the past five years. He has evicted US influence from Uzbekistan and tied up Uzbek and Turkmen gas supply. Rigged elections got Azerbaijan sewn up under the leadership of the son of the former head of the KGB. Shell have been chucked out of Russia and BP are in the process of being chucked out. Georgia was a last remaining pro-western irritant. Western oil companies remain strong in Kazakhstan, where President Nazarbaev has carried out a brilliant balancing act between Russia and the West. Putin is now bound to ratchet up the pressure on him.

Do We Need a Strong NATO to Counteract Russia?

No. That is the stupid and unimaginative answer – hence espoused by David Miliband, our foreign secretary.

His proposal to accelerate Ukrainian and Georgian NATO membership is foolish beyond belief. It will guarantee a new Cold War and boost the Zhirinvosky nationalist tendency in an already scarey Russia. NATO is part of the cause of the problem, not part of the solution. I recall when the Soviet Bloc collapsed reading an internal FCO paper entitled “Finding a New Role for NATO”. The options of a fundamental redesign or abolition were not considered. It simply dwelt on positioning a massive and unwieldy alliance, built to face down Russia, to tackle peace-keeping, drug-smuggling and human-trafficking. Of course, most of that was a cover for the structures, and jobs for the boys, to continue and in fact it just continued to control a massive nuclear-led arsenal still pointed at a disarming Russia, while all the time creeping closer to Russia. We pile on top of that new missile systems and US bases in former Russian satellite states, and our infamous decision to upgrade Trident with a system that means the UK alone could destroy every Russian city. The we worry about why Russia got paranoid and aggressive.

NATO has had its time, and the disaster of Afghanistan and brutality of Kosovo are not pointers to a new future. You can sense the relief of fools like Miliband at the comfort of returning the institution to massive cold war posture. We need a new start with Russia, which involved designing a completely new security architecture in which Russia plays a full part.

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Unfortunately reaction to the Russia-Georgia conflict in the blogosphere has tended to be both ill-informed and over-simplified. The right have rushed to back Georgia and sections of the left to back Russia. There has, bluntly, been little worth reading.

If I can put on my professional diplomat’s hat (having with great reluctance taken off my producer’s hat, as the Fringe run of Nadira’s show closed yesterday) I would acknowledge that there are many diplomats who are achingly dull and conventional. But the best of them can bring knowledge of the region, languages, cultures and people to bear, and apply it to good effect. So, joining the old buffers’ club, I want warmly to recommend to you the thoughts of Ivor Roberts:

What is sauce for the Kosovo goose is sauce for the South Ossetian gander. In other words, if the West is prepared to champion Kosovo’s secession from Serbia and disregard internationally recognised borders without the endorsement of the United Nations Security Council, it cannot be surprised if Russia does the same.

and of Brian Barder

Of course recent Russian behaviour in Georgia has been disgraceful, brutal and disproportionate, and deserves to be condemned. But it’s as well to remember that even before the recent conflict Russia had military forces stationed legally in Georgia under an earlier agreement

It is well worth reading both articles in full, including the comments. I should say that I don’t agree 100% with either of them, but this is thoughtful and stimulating stuff.

When Shevardnaze was deposed, he flew straight to Tashkent. His old friend Karimov hosted him, and Shevardnaze advised Karimov not to allow any liberal dissent. Following De Tocqueville’s maxim, Shevardnaze said his mistake was reforming- reform leads to revolution. Karimov took him seriously as detailed in Murder in Samarkand, and intensified his bloody crackdown.

Attacks on liberty don’t only happen abroad. It is an astonishing fact that, under new rules affecting FCO employees brought in by New Labour, in future comments like Ivor’s, Brian’s and mine will be illegal.

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Russian Continental Shelf Claim under the Arctic

I trust it is plain from recent articles that nobody can accuse me of being an apologist for Putin.

Indeed I have been accused of being in the pay of US neoconservatives to stoke up anti-russian feeling, which I found rather funny. Just now I rather wish I were in the pay of somebody.

Anyway, Russia seems to be doing nothing wrong with its maritime claims in Arctic waters, despite the huge fuss the media is making. Every country is entitled to a 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone, subject to boundary agreement where claims meet. Beyond that, countries may claim the contiguous continental shelf up to the limit of that shelf, the deep seabed. Whether or not there is ice above the shelf is irrelevant, and unlike the Antarctic, which is of course land, normal maritime rules apply in the Arctic.

Whether an area is continental shelf or not is a geological question. Russia’s claim is not extraordinary. One of the most spectacular continental shelf claims in the World is made by the UK and Ireland, stretching far westwards into the North Atlantic. As Head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Maritime Section at the time, I was deeply involved in the succesful negotiation of the UK/Ireland boundary lines on that shelf.

There is a happy self-limiter here, because if an area contains oil and gas, it is pretty well by definition continental shelf, for obvious geological reasons. The only question is whether it is contiguous and whether it is within an agreed boundary or subject to a legitimate claim by anyone else. Without studying detailed charts, on the face of it current Russian claims look to me perfectly reasonable on both grounds.

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Russian Journalist Murders, and Gazprom

I believe I may have found the way to post the original text of my Recent Mail Russian articles, without taking over the whole weblog:

Two months ago, 51 year old Ivan Safronov, defence correspondent of the authoritative Kommersant newspaper in Moscow, came home from work. He had bought a few groceries on the way, apparently for the evening meal. On the street where he lived, as he passed the chemist’s shop in front of the cluster of grim Soviet era apartment blocks, he met his neighbour, Olga Petrovna. She tells me that he smiled from under his hat and nodded to her. After a mild winter, Moscow had turned cold in March and Safronov held his carrier bag of groceries in one hand while the other clutched the lapels of his coat closed against the snow. Fifty yards further on he arrived at the entrance to his block, and punched in the code – 6 and 7 together, then 2 which opened the mechanical lock of the rough, grey metal door at the entrance to the concrete hallway. He passed on into the gloomy dank corridor.

The identification this week of a ‘former’ KGB officer, Andre Luguvoi, as the chief suspect in the murder in London of dissident Alexander Litvinenko, and Russia’s curt refusal to extradite him, reflects once again just how ruthless and audacious Putin’s Russian has become and how little we can do about it. But in fact there is a less obvious, but more sinister, danger from the Kremlin that threatens the future security of every British citizen.


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Murky Murder

It is worth noting that, just because the UK has requested his extradition, does not make Andrei Lugovoi guilty. Despite Blair’s obsession with rebalancing the legal system against the suspect, accused does not yet equal guilty.

Lugovoi made a number of interesting points in his lengthy press conference yesterday. For me, his strongest point was that he had his wife and child with him and they had also required treatment for contamination. It is a good point, and he should have the confidence to come over and put it to a jury.

Some of Lugovoi’s other points are interesting. As a former middle ranking Russian Security Service (FSB) officer, Litvinenko was effectively a defector and MI6 will certainly have used him for information. That is their job, after all. That does not technically make him an “agent”. Whether MI6 were still running him as a conduit for former colleagues I doubt. Litvinenko would no longer have access himself, and be too hot for others still inside to approach. MI5 could have been using him for info on Russian exiles, but it wouldn’t be their style to run someone so high profile.

I therefore very much doubt that Litvinenko was a current agent, and I can see no obvious motive for the British state to bump him off. But we should bear in mind that for Lugovoi to react by counter-accusation, still does not make him guilty. He may or may not be.

Insofar as people remember anything Litvinenko said, it is his alliance with Anna Politkovskaya on the issue of the apartment bombings in Russia in 2000 which were almost certainly the work of the FSB. One – in Ryazan – failed to go off because local residents found it and local bomb disposal defused it. That was indubitably planted by the FSB, who admitted it when their agents were caught, and claimed the bomb was a dummy. The bomb disposal team said it was a real bomb, and had the same chemical signature as the other, “Chechen” bombs.

But that wasn’t actually what led Litvinenko to quit. I have a great interest in this, as he was working on a problem on which I was working from the other end. Vast amounts of heroin come from Afghanistan, in particular from the fief of (now) Head of the Afghan Armed Forces General Dostum, in North and East Afghanistan. Dostum is an Uzbek, and the heroin passes over the Friendship Bridge from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan, where it is taken over by President Karimov’s people. It is then shipped up the railway line, in bales of cotton, to St Petersburg and Riga.

Litvinenko uncovered the St Petersburg end, and was stunned by the involvement of the city authorities and local police and security services, at the most senior levels. He reported in detail to Putin. Putin is of course from St Petersburg, and the people Litvinenko named were among Putin’s closest political allies. That is why Litvinenko, having miscalculated badly, had to flee Russia.

I had as little luck as Litvinenko in trying to get official action against this heroin trade. At the St Petersburg end he found those involved had the top protection. In Afghanistan, General Dostum is vital to Karzai’s coalition, and to the West’s pretence of a stable, democratic government. The truth is that the vast majority of heroin produced in Afghanistan is produced by members of the Afghan government, which our soldiers are dying to protect.

This year will be the largest ever opium harvest. Our attempts to blame this on the Taliban are pathetic – the Taliban are capable of raiding, but actually have very little territorial control. They are not major players in narcotics production.

Afghanistan now exports very little opium. It has instead gone into value added – it exports heroin. This is on an industrial scale, in factories not kitchens. The scale of heroin production requires millions of tonnes of liquid precursors, ferried in by hundreds of tankers. This involves active cooperation of Afghan government ministers.

I am not sure who killed Litvinenko – there are too many suspects. But I do know that we prosecute some international criminals, and protect others.

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