Civil Liberties

The Keystone KGB and Russia's "Mafia State"


Every few years a motion is tabled demanding the return of a hulking, imposing statue of Cheka founder Felix Dzerzhinsky to Lubyanka Square, location of FSB/KGB headquarters in Moscow. But thus far, sanity has (sort of) prevailed, with the pointy-bearded Polish executioner only managing a reinstated bust in the courtyard of Petrovka 38, headquarters of the Moscow Criminal Police. Putin restores and dedicates a plaque at FSB headquarters to Yuri Andropov, inserts Stalin, the "rational" mass murderer, back into school textbooks, asserts almost complete control over the broadcast media, and forces dissidents into exile and journalists into less dangerous professions. Russia has long been backsliding, in the words of The Economist, into a "neo-KGB state." So hardly a surprise to see these two stories from The Guardian—one detailing the first expulsion of a British journalist from Russia since the Cold War, the paper's excellent reporter Luke Harding; the other recounting the "very professional" theft of the "final edit" a documentary, meant to premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, on the Kremlin's ruthless legal campaign against former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

In what police described as a "very professional break-in", four computers containing the last cut of the film, titled simply Khodorkovsky, were removed from Cyril Tuschi's premises….Khodorkovsky, a fierce critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, was once his country's richest man but has been in jail on fraud charges since 2005 after falling foul of the Kremlin.

Although police have no leads in the case, there is suspicion that the theft is politically motivated and forms part of a Russian campaign against its critics."It's like being in a bad thriller," Tuschi told the Süddeutschezeitung. "Someone is trying to scare me and I must admit that they are succeeding."This is the second time the film has been stolen.

A few weeks ago, when Tuschi went to work on the final edit in Bali, his hotel room was broken into and his computer hard drive taken, according to his PR agency.

The Guardian on Harding's expulsion and its likely connection to his WikiLeaks reporting:

Luke Harding's forced departure comes after the newspaper's reporting of the WikiLeaks cables, where he reported on allegations that Russia under the rule of Vladimir Putin had become a "virtual mafia state"….

After spending 45 minutes in an airport cell, he was sent back to the UK on the first available plane – with his visa annulled and his passport only returned to him after taking his seat. Harding was given no specific reason for the decision, although an airport security official working for the Federal Border Service, an arm of the FSB intelligence agency, told him: "For you Russia is closed."

The tightly controlled nature of Russian politics means the expulsion is likely to have been ordered at a very senior level, but the British government has so far been unable to find out any more details about the decision.

Guardian journalist David Leigh's tweets about the case and its connection to WikiLeaks.