ORDERS TO KILL: THE PUTIN REGIME AND POLITICAL MURDER
By Amy Knight
Thomas Dunne Books, $27.99, 368 pages
A report that has circulated in world intelligence circles for years has finally surfaced publicly in a book by an author who The New York Times has called “the West’s foremost scholar” on the KGB — that Russian strongman (and former KGB officer) Vladimir Putin is a pedophile with a preference for young boys.
The allegation is contained “Orders to Kill,” Amy Knight’s book, which is a richly detailed account of the murders of multiple Putin foes over the years, including one brazen assassination of a would-be “reformer” literally in the shadow of the Kremlin. Although evidence strongly points to President Putin as responsible for many of the killings, “Putin is never seen holding a smoking gun,” as Ms. Knight writes.
One of the murders she analyzes is the death (by polonium poisoning) of Alexander Litvinenko, one-time fellow KGB officer and friend of Mr. Putin. The two had a falling out when Litvinenko gave Mr. Putin a scathing report on corruption within the government and the FSB (successor agency to the KGB). He was also appalled by Mr. Putin’s harsh conduct against dissidents in Chechnya.
For self-preservation, Litvinenko fled to London, where he became close to another Putin enemy, Boris Berezovsky. He also became an asset of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence service.
Litvinenko died an agonizing death in 2006 after someone slipped polonium into his cup of tea in a London cafe. (One source of the rare drug is a KGB lab.)
According to Ms. Knight’s account, Litvinenko “sealed his fate” with a 2006 article in the Chechen Press in which he described a “bizarre incident” outside the Kremlin. Mr. Putin chatted with a group of tourists, “then went over to a small boy, lifted up his T-shirt, and kissed him on the stomach.”
Litvinenko wrote that “nobody can understand why the Russian president did such a strange thing.” As Ms. Knight writes, Litvinenko “went on to explain that Mr. Putin had been known by KGB insiders to have been a pedophile and that there were secret tapes he destroyed once became head of the FSB showing him having sex with underage boys.”
True or not, a Litvinenko associate said the accusation was enough to “make Mr. Putin mad regardless of whether he is a pedophile or not.”
So, is the accusation true? I first heard the allegation several years ago when a prominent KGB defector asked me to help him find an agent to market a collection of articles he had written about the KGB. One article dealt with KGB associates who called their colleague Mr. Putin a pedophile. (The book was never published.)
Concerning the current spate of murders in Russia, one sees a different modus operandi from the old KGB, which used its own agents to carry out murders ordered by Joseph Stalin and the longtime KGB head, Lavrenti Beria. In the Putin era, of the few murderers brought to trial, many were low-grade Chechen thugs who killed either for money or to escape punishment for other crimes.
Ms. Knight sees Mr. Putin in an unholy alliance with Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya since 2007. Mr. Kadyrov “has run Chechnya as his own little country, although it is part of Russia, terrorizing its citizens with violence, kidnappings and extra-judicial killings.” Thus, rebellious Chechens are held in check.
“At the same time, Mr. Kadyrov has acted on behalf of Mr. Putin as his ‘hatchet man’ in getting rid of the Russian president’s troublesome critics.” Mr. Kadyrov has called Mr. Putin “a gift from God.” Ms. Knight contends that Mr. Kadyrov thrives because Mr. Putin bills him — falsely — as an ally with the West in the fight against Islamic terrorism.
A striking feature of the Russian murders is their brazen character. In separate killings, two investigative reporters are gunned down in city streets. A leading reformer was shot on a bridge only 300 yards from the Kremlin. Authorities claimed that security surveillance cameras on the bridge were not working and hence did not photograph the assassin.
A British inquiry into the Litvinenko death — a masterpiece of criminal investigation — fingered two Chechen characters as the guilty parties. Russia refused to extradite either of them — and indeed, one won a seat in the Duma, the Russian legislature, and became rich as a TV personality.
One involved section of Ms. Knight’s book — making ample use of circumstantial evidence — points a finger at Russian involvement in the Boston Marathon bombings. Men involved in the attacks indeed learned much in Russian-sponsored training camps; here a “smoking gun” is implied rather than proved.
No matter. Her detailed indictment makes a strong case that Vladimir Putin and the criminal empire he created survives because dissidents are slain without any consequence.
Oddly, President Trump scoffs at reports that Mr. Putin has sponsored murders. Campaigning, he said, “Nobody has proved that he’s killed anyone. He’s always denied it. It is not been proven that he’s killed reporters.”
Mr. Trump has voiced disdain for reading books. Perhaps someone should slip a copy of “Orders to Kill” onto his nightstand.
Joseph C. Goulden, the author of 19 non-fiction books, writes frequently on intelligence and military affairs.