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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shatter the Mirror of National Delusion

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As Alexander Litvinenko lay dying in a London hospital, a strategy meeting was convened in the offices of Boris Berezovsky. The oligarch was adamant to get the word out that Litvinenko was poisoned on orders of President Vladimir Putin.

"The problem is, most people will not want to believe it was Putin," cautioned Lord Bell, Berezovsky's media adviser. "People are instinctively averse to the idea of presidents ordering murders. The more it seems obvious, the deeper they'll go into denial. But if it was not Putin, then it must be you."

Since Litvinenko's death, the two reciprocal theories settled in the minds of millions: One of the two of them killed Litvinenko with the objective of framing the other. Like in a mirror, the known facts of the case reflect each other in the two plots: Every truth is matched by a counter truth. Berezovsky's counter figure is as adamant as himself at painting him as the murderer. "Those people who are hiding from Russian justice are willing to sacrifice anyone to create a wave of anti-Russian feeling," commented Putin on the killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

In the two parallel views, the hit men are agents of the respective spy agencies, MI6 and the FSB. According to Berezovsky, the investigation by Russian prosecutors is "a farce." As for the murder weapon, one side points to the Avangard plant at Sarov -- otherwise known as Arzamas-16, the former top-secret Soviet nuclear lab. The plant, located in the Nizhny Novgorod region, still operates as a large producer of nuclear weaponry. It is also where the bulk of world's polonium-210 is produced.

The two perspectives of Litvinenko's murder are rooted in a vastly different views of the world. In the Kremlin view, an unholy alliance of U.S. imperialists, the CIA, MI6, Chechen terrorists, fugitive oligarchs and Orange revolutionaries is conspiring to "dismember Russia." A pack of wolves led by the big, bad "Comrade Wolf," to borrow Putin's metaphor for the United States.

In the reciprocal view promoted by the London dissidents, Russia's secret services have hijacked the state and are so insecure and unsure of themselves, that they can find legitimacy only in aggression towards all those who are "not us" -- ne nashi. They are driven by a siege mentality. They despise and fear the West, which they see as a threat to their power. For them, London is a combat zone -- like Chechnya. It is a menace that should be contained.

By a twist of fate, Litvinenko's murder became a clash point of the two conflicting views of the world. The answer to the question "Who killed Litvinenko?" defines in the eye of the beholder his personal resolution of Russia's identity crisis.

The reason why a better part of Russia's educated class chose to subscribe to the Kremlin view was guessed by Lord Bell: The alternative is too horrific to accept. As Vadim Rechkalov, a seasoned journalist, wrote in Moskovsky Komsomolets: "There are 150 million Russians, and I am one of them. If we believe that Politkovskaya was murdered by Ramzan Kadyrov, the Hero of Russia, following which Putin, having killed Litvinenko, appoints Kadyrov as president of Chechnya, then why do we, in our doomed apathy, live under Putin? And if we don't believe it, why not say so? As for me, I would rather be called a mouthpiece of the FSB than be a part of such people." Just like an average Westerner would instinctively brush aside a suggestion that MI6 staged an act of nuclear terrorism in the middle of London or charged an innocent man because someone wants to "create a wave of anti-Russian feeling."

The power of the Litvinenko affair is that the final choice between the two versions cannot be decided by a poll. Murder is absolute, and the truth can only be one. Of the two mirror images, only one is the reality and the other is a delusion. For millions who adhere to the wrong theory, the moment of truth will also bring about a catharsis of a larger scale: the collapse of their system of values.

Those who want to face the truth will need to subject their vision of the Litvinenko affair to two tests that can resolve the dilemma: the test of logic, and the test of evidence.

The logical consideration is based on the ancient maxim: Who benefits? Assuming that the murderer didn't want to harm himself, the notion that the Kremlin did it might seem illogical because the scandal damaged the Kremlin first and foremost. Why would they do something that was so obviously harmful to their interests? However, this logic is faulty because it supposes that the killers expected to be caught. That is, they contemplated that polonium-210 might be identified as the murder weapon, which would have left a radioactive trail leading to Moscow and would have provided grounds for charging Andrei Lugovoi.

If, on the other hand, one assumes that the killers did not expect to be caught -- a logical supposition -- the answer to "who benefits?" looks very different. Had Litvinenko died of an unexplained cause, the suspicion -- and all the harm -- would fall on Berezovsky. Polonium was identified on the 23rd day of Litvinenko's illness -- an hour before his death -- by sheer chance. Litvinenko lived that long because he was so strong and took only one sip of that tea; that was the killer's greatest misfortune. This was supposed to be a perfect murder with no traces and only one logical suspect -- Berezovsky.

There are two kinds of evidence that the British authorities are keeping under wraps. First, there is forensic data about the polonium trail: closed circuit television images and eyewitness accounts such as the testimony of the barman in the Millenium hotel who served the tea. Second, there are scientific results of isotope analysis of samples isolated from Litvinenko's body, which could unequivocally establish the site, date and batch of polonium. If it is indeed the Avangard plant, then the Kremlin will have a lot of explaining to do.

Thus, all the cards are in Britain's hands. Now that Lugovoi's extradition is practically ruled out, they should publish their evidence without delay. By doing so, they will not only advance the cause of truth, but will shatter the mirror of national delusion that has afflicted the great country of Russia -- to the benefit of the Russians and the rest of the world.

That would be a form of justice for Litvinenko as well.

Alex Goldfarb, an associate of Boris Berezovsky, is co-author with Marina Litvinenko of "Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB," published by Free Press.