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Why the West Needs to Stop its Moralising against China


The great German philosopher Leibniz put it well over three centuries ago. Writing in his `Discourse on the Natural Theology of the Chinese’ he stated, `I did not want to examine to what extent the manner of worship of the Chinese could be condemned or justified… I only wanted to investigate their doctrines.’  These days, the issue of what to think, and in particular, what to feel about China has become entangled in the domestic politics of Europe and America to such an extent that attempts to do precisely as Leibniz did so long ago and simply describe and understand without being seen as validating and condoning become next to impossible. Finding a reasonable, critical space to look in all directions has seldom been harder.

Hong Kong is one issue where this is particularly true. The UK has historic links to the city. The capitalist world has always thought of it as a benign place, despite the fact that since 1997 it has been part of the sovereign territory of a Communist country. Everyone had feelings towards this remarkable, hybrid, and unique place. Perhaps that is why it arouses such strong, possessive feelings. It might not belong to you, but it is still, in some ways, a place everyone can feel is theirs.

If there was a time in recent history when the words of solicitude and concern could, and should, have been expressed with the maximum of force and conviction, that was the 31st of July when Chief Executive of the city, Carrie Lam, declared that local Legislative Council elections due in September would be delayed for a year. Ms Lam, calling it the `most difficult decision I’ve made over the past seven months’, went on to say that `this postponement is entirely made based on public safety reasons, there were no political considerations.’The COVID19 virus, which has raged across the region and the world over the last six months, was the reason for this unprecedented decision, she said. But even the least cynical would have had a hard time ignoring the fact that in the weeks and months building up to this moment, from the passing by Beijing of a new security law covering the city coming into effect on 1st July to the refusal to allow some pro-democracy party candidates to stand, even if the government was not avoiding the elections, it was doing a remarkable job of looking like that was precisely what it was up to.

Declarations followed, from the UK , the European Union and the US. Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State in the US, issued one of the most curt and forceful responses on 1 August: ` The elections should be held as close to the September 6 date as possible and in a manner that reflects the will and aspirations of the Hong Kong people,’ the statement said. `If they aren’t, then regrettably Hong Kong will continue its march toward becoming just another Communist-run city in China.’

There is nothing wrong with the US statement. The concerns it expressed all needed to be said. But the context in which it was issued could not have been more tragically symptomatic of the mismatch between word and deed that has all but stymied anything currently put out on China by the administration Pompeo is a key member of, and of those that try to follow it. Only a day before the announcement in Hong Kong, the leader of the free world, Pompeo’s boss, President Trump, tweeted that the imminent November presidential election in the US should be delayed. `With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good),’ he tweeted, `2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA,’ he wrote. ‘Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???’. This was despite the fact that everyone, including senior members of his own party, agreed that he had no constitutional right to demand this, or bring it about. Only Congress is able to do that. Nor that his claims about possible voter fraud are almost wholly unproven and not backed up by serious evidence.

This extraordinary example of a mismatch between word and deed is, however, not an isolated one. It is the culmination of a long, lamentable process in which the Enlightenment powers (multi-party developed democracies like the US, countries in Europe, and inclusive of others like Australia and New Zealand) have slowly, but surely, lost their moral stature. One of the many outcomes of this is to have reduced the force of words directed at China to, at best, political rhetoric, much of it performed for domestic constituencies in their home country with no real impact intended or actually achieved on the supposed target. In this situation, the conclusion is a sobering one. At a time when the outside world should speak strongly in order to uphold its values, the Hong Kong postponed election example cited above is symptomatic of how the US, UK, Europe and other democracies have never been in a weaker position. Beset by the sort of divisions seen in the protests in Portland, Oregon over the last few weeks or in the UK over Brexit in the last few years, it would be a brave leader in Beijing who would stand up to their own colleagues on the grounds that the West still offered a model attractive enough for them to consider emulating in terms of its ability to deliver stability and consensus.

This is not a recent phenomenon. Historians will probably trace this decline to the moment when the US and its allies and their values looked at their peak, around 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under Bush the elder and then Clinton, the unipolar moment dawned. Russia descended into chaos. The Chinese also underwent their less dramatic but equally profound soul searching after the uprising of June 1989. Communism was no longer a viable option. The capitalist, free market West knew how to make people prosperous, strong, and happy. No wonder the 1990s now evoke so much nostalgia.

And yet the divisions were soon visible. Perhaps the shock of September 11th, 2001 was the most dramatic moment. But it built on simmering resentments on the one hand, and complacency on the other, that allowed the management of its aftermath to cause the US and China to paper over their differences and wage a war on terror that meant the State Department Pompeo now heads allowed two Xinjiang groups to be put on an international terrorist list. From that first, albeit small, act of complicity, many others flowed.

The Chinese and others watched as the US and its most faithful allies went back into the Middle East, waging the Second Iraq War in 2003. That soon unravelled. Its grounds were spurious (no weapons of mass destruction were found, despite the use of these as the reason for going in). The war was won, but the peace became long, chaotic, and bloody. Perhaps most damaging of all, with extra renditions, enhanced interrogation techniques (for which read torture), Guantanamo Bay, and the exposure of appalling abuses in jails in Iraq itself by American soldiers, the `free world’ looked harder and harder to admire. In the end, a sort of truth prevailed. Accountability was exercised. Bush and Blair, in particular, suffered catastrophic collapse in their reputations from which they have never recovered.  But the proponents of democratic, Western based values emerged from all of this battered, and often tarnished, their moral stature diminished.

The Great Financial Crisis of 2008 only reinforced the message that the capitalist world was not even able to supply answers to the very things it still maintained the strongest claims to leadership on. As historian Adam Tooze has shown in clinical detail in his 2017 book `Crashed’, mismanagement in the first place was more than supplemented by greed, protection of vested interest, and immorality. Even more devastating, it was the Chinese and their growth after 2009 that stabilised much of the global situation. Unlike with the Gulf War debacles, however, almost none were held to account for the loss of livelihood and wealth that flowed from the collapse of markets and growth around 2008. On top of the moral collapse in geopolitics, there was an even more damaging one in the world of finance and the economy.

In all of these issues, China in particular, despite many accusations levelled at it, is not guilty. It did not remotely have a role in the reasons for the US and others getting sucked into the War on Terror – and nor did it want to see 2008, despite some economists blaming its own economy for bringing about the distortions that led to the whole event. China’s main issue, as has become clear since, is that, in both these historic areas, it was largely able to move through without any detrimental effect to itself. In fact, by accident rather than design, as the US and other powers harmed themselves, China simply carried on economically, growing stronger.  

The War on Terror and the financial crisis were political and geopolitical issues. But they have had a massive impact on the moral standing of the West and have undermined their confidence. They have created clear, and in many places tragic, divisions. No one can observe the protests that swept across the US over Black Lives Matters in mid-2020 and see people pitted against people without a deep sense of unhappiness. The US seems to be going through a terrifying breakdown, in which its most senior elected official, a person who has historically been regarded as the most important spokesperson for democratic values by the world’s most successful and important democracy, seems to be trying to undermine and denigrate the values they are meant to stand for. For all the complaints about interference by parties from Russia to China in the 2016 US election, one has to be clear about one thing. Even if these claims are true (and many probably are), no one, neither Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin, could more forcefully and effectively undermine the values of democracy than Donald Trump has done over the last few weeks.  And it was, in the end, not Xi or Putin that put him there, but the electoral system and the electorate of the United States of America. If one does not apportion blame fairly and honestly in the right place, how can one really deal with the problems one is facing?

In this context, COVID19 carries deep symbolic weight. As of August 2020, China, where most believe the virus started, has managed to control the spread of the infection and is now emerging from the initial phase of economic downturn by reporting a 3.2 percent GDP rise in the second quarter of the year. As this happens, Europe is moving into a deep recession, with fears of a second spike in infections and fatalities. The UK has shrunk by a fifth of GDP in the first three months of the year while suffering one of the worst levels of death from the disease. By the end of June, America had lost around 12 million jobs and saw its GDP contract by 4.8 per cent, with a 30 per cent contraction predicted, the worst figure ever recorded. It, too, is still fighting the disease, with issues like the wearing of masks politicised and fought over.

This is not to denigrate the efforts these countries have made to deal with the pandemic. It is to acknowledge that no one has found this vast challenge easy to handle. In the very early part of the year, there were criticisms made of China being unfit to deal with an issue like this because of its governance system. This was going to be, in the words of one analysis, the country’s Chernobyl moment. And yet, others quickly became consumed in events that showed their own decision making processes and governance capacity were also, albeit for different reasons, imperfect and chaotic. Had COVID19 been like the SARS crisis of 2003, it would have neatly fitted the narrative of a regional China-centric problem, and one that showed why this area and its values and governance were a problem. Any sober analysis of COVID19 would need to recognise that, in different ways, and for different reasons, almost everyone has a problem. This pandemic has been a great leveller. The narrative has clearly changed.

That means that the most prudent response should be one of humility. No one knows what sort of world we are moving into. The economic impact of the pandemic will produce a politics it is hard to predict for governments no matter what their structure and nature. The worst outcomes – high job losses, disappearance of growth – are too terrible to contemplate. At best, there needs to be more unity, more joint purpose, and far less parochial political point scoring in order to confront this vast shared problem.  The need for humility and a more circumspect tone in order to achieve that have never been clearer. Instead, there have been almost toxic levels of anger and blame that have boiled over from this towards China, particularly in the US and to some extent in Britain, Australia and other democracies. The desire by some political figures, from Trump downwards, to clamber on a moral high ground that has long since disappeared for them has simply proved too hard to resist.

In 2020, there is an important moment to stand back from the chaos we all see unfolding and do two things fundamentally differently. The first is to purge our language, outside China, of the constant desire to urge it to become like us, and to be constantly wanting to preach and urge it to reform and change in ways that will, we assume, make it more like us. I write as someone who in the past did think that was what we should do. Events in the last decade or so have shown that the situation is far too complex and the variables culturally and politically in China far too great, for one to start projecting on it templates and models from elsewhere that we have no idea will really work. These range from the rise of a highly autocratic leader like Xi Jinping against some expectations that China would move in a more liberal direction, to the constant predictions that the country is about to implode. It is a difficult thing to say and cuts against our usual desire to be idealistic, but at the moment, and probably far in the future, the best we can hope from China is simply to be stable. We no longer have the luxury of our own stability and its track record to sit on when making judgements about the People’s Republic. The harsh fact, and one that needs to be honestly and candidly recognised, is that in the last two decades, it is the US and its allies who have been the source of more instability than China!

That doesn’t mean that on issues like Hong Kong and the postponed, even cancelled, elections that the democratic world shouldn’t speak out. But the most powerful thing it should do is to start living up to its own values and in that way, being the best advert for their desirability and attractiveness. That means an acknowledgement that, in the last few years, this has not been the case. Europe and the US have often been internally divided, fractious, and angry. They have acted much of the time almost as though they didn’t really believe in the values they were espousing. It is no good blaming Moscow and Beijing for this. The deepest wound were the self-inflicted ones. Consensus was lost in our societies. 2020 should be the moment when that gets rebuilt. Otherwise, we will be living proof that our values are just for speaking about, not living up to. And finally, there is the second thing we can all do: inculcate the idea of a responsible attitude towards China. It is fine that, for instance, politicians in the UK now feel because of COVID19 that they have to have an attitude and an opinion about China. But it would be good if they were to also avail themselves as much as possible of some knowledge and understanding available.

There needs to be much more support for basic education about China and for knowledge-based engagement with it. The posture of the Johnson government, on the surface at least, is to be data driven. And yet, on China, there is scant evidence of even a decent level of understanding amongst most politicians, opinion formers, and commentators. This was recognised in a report recently by Professor Rana Mitter of Oxford  and Sophia Garston for the British Foreign Policy Group issued on the fateful day Carrie Lam made her declaration in Hong Kong on July 31.  Knowledge, humility, and honesty will be the things that help the outside world deal with the historic challenge of China’s rise. Without those, it is hard to see how any impact will be made on the leaders of a country that currently see in the politicians facing them from Canberra, to Berlin, London and Washington the precise opposite.

Further Reading on E-International Relations




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Team GB sprinter considers stop and search legal action, as scenes of ‘driving while black’ spread across social media – Channel 4 News


The Metropolitan Police have urged the Team GB sprinter Bianca Williams and her partner to get in touch – and discuss an incident where they were stopped and searched while driving in west London.

The couple claim they were racially profiled – and while the police say each stop is made on its own merits, they are confident there were no misconduct issues but want to consider what they could have done differently.

This programme has also learnt that the Met have made a voluntary referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct – following a separate complaint by a 21-year-old key worker accusing the same unit of racial profiling.



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Post COVID-19 Pandemic Lets Stop the Next Wave of Medicalisation over Mental Health — Global Issues


The wall at a Community Mental Health Movement in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS
  • by Samira Sadeque (united nations)
  • Friday, June 26, 2020
  • Inter Press Service

This is according to Dainius Pūras, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Pūras recently voiced his concerns about the “historical neglect of dignified mental health care,” that has been even more heightened under the pandemic.

“Before the pandemic, I critically addressed the current status quo of global mental health, and now with this pandemic my position is: even more I would recommend to rethink how we invest in mental health,” Pūras, a medical doctor with notable expertise in mental health and children’s health, told IPS.

He added that there are two principles used when addressing mental health: a human rights and evidence-based approach. Currently, under the pandemic, the latter has come under attack with a massive amount of misinformation and false news spreading, which he says can affect mental health of people and their communities. 

Excerpts of the interview with Pūras follow. Some of the answers have been paraphrased for clarity.

Inter Press Service (IPS): In what ways has the pandemic affected mental health of people?

Dainius Pūras (DP): During a pandemic, there are risks that if a person has a mental health condition, he or she might be hospitalised by force. Also, because of the virus, there might be suspicions that this person may spread the virus, which poses an additional risk factor for discriminating against people with mental health concerns. 

There should be more research done but there are many insights and preliminary observations that this pandemic will probably have a serious impact on the mental health of individuals and societies. 

There are several reasons for this: the spread of the virus and requirements for distancing and isolation, plus economic and social and employment also increase different forms of violence for example domestic violence. All these will fuel mental distress, anxiety, fear, all these feelings of uncertainty about the future 

I should highlight — another serious risk factor is that we witness massive amounts of fake news, disinformation, conspiracy theories around the virus, the origin of the virus and around statistics. This is not good for mental health. 

When children are not going to school, they’re missing out on very important aspects of socialisation. For many children, it’s their only way to get a meal — physical and mental health are interrelated in these ways.  

IPS: What is one of the current challenges of addressing mental health issues, especially under the pandemic? 

DP: I don’t support the narrative that this pandemic fuels mental distress, fear, anxiety, and the narrative that more mental illnesses will come. It’s not about producing more mental illness — it makes people anxious and scared but that’s a part of normal life, I do not want to medicalise that.  

We need to work against pathologisation and medicalisation. Because if we say millions of people are now more anxious than before, does it mean we will go on globally with medicalisation? Does it mean we will suggest  psychological medication to all these people including children and adults? 

I’m not against medication but when I analyse global situations, for sure this has gone too far. Feelings have been medicalised. I am warning that with this pandemic there would be a next wave of medicalisation. That when people are anxious and not happy, there might be an attempt to “medicalise them even more than before”. We have to be creative and to think of some innovative forms of support and cure, not necessarily medicalise. 

IPS: What are the risks involved for those with mental health at this time?

DP: More and more people are diagnosed. But then because of this diagnosis they’re discriminated against. And also because of that, in many parts of the world, many suffer from institutionalisation: sometimes that can be lifelong. 

Sometimes that’s because of a lack of services in the community and they live in institutions but now we know these institutions are hotspots for the virus. As for many countries, the closed spaces, such as prisons or psychiatric institutions are now making it worse given how dangerous it can be for residents and staff because the virus can spread. IPS: Are there certain communities more vulnerable to facing mental health risks in this pandemic?

DP: Many people who were already left behind will suffer disproportionately… So, in many parts of the world, LGBT people are discriminated against, people with disabilities other than psycho-social ones we discussed, and those with physical disability, indigenous people, migrants and refugees in difficult situations, and also the prison population — these people are at more risk. 

IPS: The issue of mental health appears to have multiple layers of barriers: financial means and social stigma. How do you navigate both financial concern as well as social stigma of this issue?

DP: My approach is that we always have to keep in mind the principles and then we will not be lost when it’s concrete. We should follow non-discrimination, empowerment, accountability and other principles. 

The problem is all these global mental health are based on discriminatory approaches; for example, if a person is diagnosed with a mental health condition or illness they could be discriminated against by mental health law in their country. 

Next week, I will be presenting many arguments to the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) about the need for a shift in paradigm instead of making small changes. A shift is needed. There is too much: the biomedical model is overused; its okay but when it’s overused, it’s harmful. 

 IPS: What’re your hopes going forward? 

DP: With this pandemic what I’m emphasising in my statement; now we should be finally convinced that we need to move ahead with reducing the number of these institutions, with a final goal of abandoning this legacy.  

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Pete Buttigieg is taunted by jeering protesters who chase the Democrat away during campaign stop gone wrong – The Sun


DEMOCRATIC presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was met by jeering protestors as a recent campaign stop appeared to go horribly wrong.

Buttigieg was initially welcomed by $15 minimum wage activists – but things soon went south for the former South Bend, Indiana mayor, according to footage taken at an event on Monday.

 Pete Buttigieg was heckled as he left a campaign event in Charleston, South Carolina, on Monday

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Pete Buttigieg was heckled as he left a campaign event in Charleston, South Carolina, on MondayCredit: EPA
 As he left, Buttigieg was pressed by protesters, who had chanted that he could not be their president and pressed him on his policy record

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As he left, Buttigieg was pressed by protesters, who had chanted that he could not be their president and pressed him on his policy recordCredit: AP:Associated Press

In the video, posted by TIME, Buttigieg can be seen making a stop to join McDonald’s workers and activists taking part in a Fight For $15 march, in Charleston, South Carolina.

The 38-year-old was initially welcomed by the group, and after hugging one protestor, the former attempted to give a speech to the crowd.

Within a minute of Buttigieg taking the mic, however, the heckles had begun.

One person could be heard calling the former mayor a “flip-flopper,” while another said he was “co-opting the movement.”

“PETE CAN’T BE OUR PRESIDENT”

Soon, minimum wage marchers had begun chanting over Buttigieg’s speech itself, repeating their slogan, “We work, we sweat, put $15 on our check.”

Also present at the march were members of the Poor People’s Campaign and activists from Black Youth Project 100, an African American youth social justice organization.

Members of the latter then began to heckle Buttigieg over his political record.

As the former mayor then walked away from the minimum wage march, flanked by campaign staff, BYP100 activists began chanting: “Pete can’t be our President. Where was $15 in South Bend?”

 Buttigieg has initially been marching with a minimum wage advocacy group, Fight For $15, before the heckles began

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Buttigieg has initially been marching with a minimum wage advocacy group, Fight For $15, before the heckles beganCredit: EPA
 The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor was then heckled by another group of protestors, who chanted he couldn't be their president

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The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor was then heckled by another group of protestors, who chanted he couldn’t be their presidentCredit: 2020

The TIME footage shows Buttigieg leaving the scene and being followed by BYP100 activists.

As he then moved to enter his SUV, the presidential candidate could be heard referencing a plan for disabled workers to those who had followed him.

According to reports, Buttigieg was the only president candidate to appear at the March – though representative from other candidates’ campaign teams were present.

In the latest Winthrop Poll, Buttigieg only had 1% support from African Americans.

The minimum wage in Indiana currently stands at $7.25.

POLITICAL RECORD QUESTIONED

Last year, when Buttigieg was the city’s mayor, the South Bend Tribune called for the minimum wage to be increased to $12 per hour.

In 2016, Buttigieg had been able to get minimum wage for city employees raised to $10.10 an hour – but state law prevented local municipalities from instituting a higher mandated minimum wage for all businesses.

South Carolina primary is the forth nominating contest for the Democratic Party in 2020 and will take place on February 29.

Candidates have already stressed the importance of succeeding in the state, which awards 63 delegates, of which 54 are pledged delegates allocated on the basis of the results of the primary.

Success in South Carolina can also bolster candidates going into Super Tuesday, which will see fourteen state primaries take place, as well as the American Samoa caucuses.

This day of voting will amount to 1344 pledged delegates – 33.8 percent of the nationwide total.

According to a recent poll by Clemson University, Joe Biden holds an 18 point lead going into South Carolina, where he hopes to close the gap on frontrunner Bernie Sanders.

 Polls show Joe Biden is currently the favorite to win South Carolina, whose primary takes place on February 29

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Polls show Joe Biden is currently the favorite to win South Carolina, whose primary takes place on February 29Credit: Getty Images – Getty
 Bernie Sanders is currently the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nominee

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Bernie Sanders is currently the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomineeCredit: AP:Associated Press


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How Kremlin Assassins Sowed Terror Through The Streets Of London While British Police Scrambled To Stop Them


Rain was spreading like a fresh bruise across the London sky as the unmarked car rolled up Whitehall toward Big Ben. The Scotland Yard protection officer scanned the road with a well-trained eye, clocking potential hazards as the car passed the spiked iron gates of Downing Street, and swung right on Parliament Square. He had spent years guarding countless government ministers and visiting foreign dignitaries, and there wasn’t an inch of this maze of power that he didn’t know like the back of his hand.

Nothing looked amiss as the car sloshed to a stop outside a modern multicolored glass building. London’s black-cab drivers were doing roaring business in the rain, and the pavements were gray and empty except for a smattering of pedestrians under dripping umbrellas. But the city was in crisis. Days before, the FSB defector Alexander Litvinenko had died in the full glare of the world’s media after being poisoned with radioactive polonium. But first, he managed to solve his own murder by publicly accusing the Kremlin of orchestrating his killing in a statement issued from his deathbed. The protection officer had been summoned as the government scrambled to respond to this brazen nuclear attack in the heart of London.

The doors to the Home Office slid open and the officer strode into the command center of British state security. He was shown upstairs to a large boardroom where a host of grave-faced officials was waiting. A stale sort of mugginess in the air told him they had been cooped up together for some time.

“There were six people on the Kremlin’s hit list,” the woman at the head of the table said as soon as he sat, “and they have already killed Litvinenko.” Officials from MI5, MI6, and GCHQ were seated around the table, the officer noted, alongside the Home Office security chiefs. “This is a direct policy of the Russian state: they are killing dissidents,” the chair continued. “We have some here, and they are coming for them.” She addressed him directly. “Make them safe,” she commanded.

The exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky and the Chechen rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev were judged to be under “severe” threat of assassination, the officials around the table explained, meaning an attack was considered “highly likely,” while a Russian journalist living in Britain and the Cold War defector Oleg Gordievsky had also been identified as Kremlin targets. Another political hit on British soil would be an “unimaginable” disaster for the government as it struggled to salvage relations with Moscow and restore public confidence in the wake of the Litvinenko imbroglio. So the Home Office wanted Scotland Yard’s Specialist Protection Command to work alongside the security services to provide “defense in depth” for each of the exiles on the Kremlin’s hit list.

Specialist Protection was usually tasked with guarding the prime minister and members of the cabinet, so its officers had the same level of security clearance as Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism command. That meant they could be briefed on intelligence British spies had gathered about the threats to the Russians on their watch.

Over the week that followed, they learned about the FSB’s poison factory outside Moscow, where armies of state scientists were developing an ever-expanding suite of chemical and biological weapons for use against individual targets. There were poisons designed to make death look natural by triggering fast-acting cancers, heart attacks, and other fatal illnesses. There were labs set up to study the biomolecular structure of prescription medicines and work out what could be added to turn a common cure into a deadly cocktail. And the state had developed a whole arsenal of psychotropic drugs to destabilize its enemies—powerful mood-altering substances designed to plunge targets into enough mental anguish to take their own lives or to make staged suicides look believable.

That Russia had poured such unimaginable resources into providing its hit squads with the tools of undetectable murder made the brazenness of Litvinenko’s killing even more perplexing. Polonium had the potential to be the perfect traceless poison: its alpha rays made it hard to detect, and with a smaller dose Litvinenko would probably have died quietly of cancer a few months later. Perhaps, the security officials thought, his two assassins had overdosed him accidentally in their desperation to get the job done. Or maybe his death was deliberately dramatic, designed to send a signal to Russia’s dissident diaspora in Britain. Either way, there was one thing the protection officer learned for sure: even if it looked like the death of a Russian exile was the result of natural causes, accident, or suicide, that conclusion might well not be worth the autopsy paper it was written on.

To add to the complexity, the FSB was inextricably intertwined with Russian mafia groups, which in turn had deep links to powerful organized crime gangs in Britain, so Scotland Yard needed to be ready for anything from a sophisticated chemical, biological, or nuclear attack to a crude hit contracted out to a London gangster for cash.

The greatest threat, by far, was to Berezovsky. The oligarch had made himself Russia’s public enemy number one through his relentless attacks on the Kremlin and his efforts to foment insurrection in Putin’s backyard, and he had effectively appointed himself the chef de mission of the entire dissident community in the UK. He had already survived several assassination attempts, and the Russia watchers were getting a steady stream of intelligence about new plots to kill him. Russia’s state security and organized crime complex had grown into a multiheaded hydra under Putin’s auspices, and competing factions within the FSB, the mafia, and the country’s military intelligence agency were all vying for the chance to harpoon the president’s white whale.

Shielding Berezovsky was now the protection officer’s top priority. It was time to pay a visit to Down Street.

Berezovsky was in typically rambunctious spirits. The murder of Litvinenko was a sickening blow, but it was also a resounding vindication. The assassination had, as the defector said in his dying statement, shown just how brutal Putin truly was, and finally the world was listening. His office on Down Street was abuzz as the oligarch and his acolytes made sense of what had happened and conspired to ram home the message of their friend’s murder.

For his own part, Berezovsky had no doubt about who had administered the polonium—but he was skeptical that Litvinenko was the intended target. Hadn’t Berezovsky himself been warned, years before, of a radioactive plot to kill him on British soil? Wasn’t he Putin’s true nemesis? The oligarch was busy telling everyone that the assassins had really been sent to eliminate him but must have failed and seized the chance to poison Litvinenko instead. So when the protection officer showed up in his office with the news that he was at the top of the Kremlin’s UK hit list, he was thrilled. Finally the state was endorsing what he had been saying all along: Vladimir Putin was trying to kill him.

The protection officer was a tall, elegant man with close-cropped silver hair and pale blue eyes. He was a shade more erudite than many of his Scotland Yard colleagues, and he formed an easy rapport with Berezovsky. It would be necessary, he explained, to scour every detail of the oligarch’s lifestyle for weak spots that could be exploited by the Kremlin’s assassins. The first step was to perform a full “ingestion audit”—cataloging everything Berezovsky consumed, to assess his susceptibility to poisoning. During a series of interviews, officers filled their notebooks with an exhaustive list of anything the oligarch ate and drank, learning more than they ever thought they would about the finest wines and whiskeys money could buy, as well as documenting all the creams and lotions he applied to his body and the medication he was taking. It did not take long to identify a major problem.

Berezovsky was heavily reliant on Viagra, and, worse, he was taking a penis-enlargement formula that he had specially shipped over from Moscow. Still more alarming was his appetite for teenage girls, which made him a sitting duck for honey traps. The oligarch was constantly being contacted by disturbingly young sex workers from the former USSR and he frequently ferried them over to Britain for sessions on his private plane.

I have the absurd responsibility of trying to persuade a sixty-year-old billionaire that he has to rein all this in, the protection officer reflected wearily as he reviewed the results of his lifestyle audit. But he was used to this sort of ethical dilemma from years of guarding the great and the good in London. When an ambassador did drugs in the back of the car, or a diplomat brought a hooker back to his hotel, it was part of the job to look away. “I’m not going to sit here giving you a lecture on morals or ethics, but you’re very vulnerable here,” was all he said to his charge. “This is how they’ll kill you.”

The problem wasn’t just the girls. Berezovsky was forever being approached over the transom by would-be business partners and political allies who wanted his funding for this new enterprise or that new opposition party, and he was all too free and easy about meeting anyone who asked to see him.

Then there was the challenge of separating the Kremlin-sanctioned threats from those arising from the oligarch’s own risky business dealings. Berezovsky had tangled often enough with organized crime to acquire some nasty private adversaries who had tried to take him out before, but the officer’s remit was limited to protecting him from government assassins. The problem was that Berezovsky’s private enemies could easily hire a moonlighting FSB hit squad to go after him, and the state was equally capable of enlisting another oligarch or mafia boss to orchestrate his killing as a cutout, so it was all but impossible to be sure where any given threat really originated.

The officer reasoned that there was no point confronting Berezovsky about the darker side of his life. After all, he would never answer truthfully anyway. But he instructed the oligarch not to meet anyone who approached him out of the blue on any pretext—be it sexual, commercial, or political—without first passing on the details to Scotland Yard for vetting.

The intelligence flowing into Specialist Protection from Britain’s spy agencies indicated an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of new threats against Berezovsky. The officers were deluged with the names and photographs of a rapidly changing cast of individuals linked to the Russian security services or organized crime who were believed to be involved in plans to kill the oligarch. When a fresh plot emerged, officers would track Berezovsky down and yank him out of whatever dinner or business meeting he was attending to warn him he was in imminent danger.

The protection officer began to feel he was living in a John le Carré novel, meeting Berezovsky furtively at night on misty street corners in Belgravia to show him mug shots of his latest would-be assassins under the lamplight and implore him, please, for God’s sake, not to agree to meet them.

The others on the Kremlin’s hit list had adapted well enough to their new security regimes. The rebel leader Zakayev accepted an armed guard at his house when the threat level was deemed high, and he never met anyone new without careful vetting and countersurveillance measures. Gordievsky and the Russian journalist were conscientious about their safety. But Berezovsky was impossibly unruly.

On more than one occasion, he called the protection officer to announce that he had just met someone he had been warned might be part of a plot to kill him. And he flatly refused to stop antagonizing the Kremlin. He kept traveling to Belarus and Georgia to stoke unrest right on Putin’s doorstep—even after being told that Scotland Yard could do nothing to protect him when he was overseas. And every time he gave another interview in which he took a potshot at Putin, fresh intelligence would flood in from Britain’s listening posts in Moscow indicating that new plans were being laid to silence him. It was almost, the protection officer thought, as if you could feel the chill wind blowing in from the east.

But the oligarch seemed to thrive on it. “I am what I am,” he would say. “I am Boris Berezovsky, and I crave conflict.” It was as if he had a strange sort of destructive energy, the officer thought, that made him want to run right into danger.

Though he had had stayed relatively quiet immediately after Litvinenko’s slaying, by the spring the oligarch was ready to launch his next broadside. The protection officer woke one day in April to discover that his charge had given an interview to the Guardian renewing his declaration that he was plotting the violent overthrow of President Putin. Berezovsky claimed he had forged close relationships with members of Russia’s ruling elite and was bankrolling secret plans to mount a palace coup. “We need to use force,” he told the newspaper. “It isn’t possible to change this regime through democratic means.”

The Kremlin immediately hit back, denouncing Berezovsky’s call for revolution as a criminal offense that should void his refugee status in Britain. Scotland Yard said it would investigate those allegations, but the oligarch was unconcerned: the courts had already ruled that he couldn’t be sent back to Russia to stand trial.

The protection officer was horrified. Berezovsky’s latest pronouncement was followed by yet another flood of intelligence indicating that the FSB was setting up a fresh plot to kill him. And this was no empty threat. Soon after the first reports came in, Specialist Protection received an urgent call: Word had just come over the wire that an assassin was on his way to Britain.

The hit man was a fearsome figure in the Russian ganglands—and he was no stranger to the man he was coming to kill. Movladi Atlangeriev was the godfather of Moscow’s Chechen mafia, known as Lord or, more reverently, Lenin throughout the underworld. He started out in the ’70s as a smart young Chechen hoodlum with a taste for fast Western cars and a talent for burglary and rose to riches in the ’80s running a gang of thieves targeting wealthy students across the capital. At the turn of the decade, as communism fell, he persuaded the heads of the city’s most prosperous Chechen crime groups to band together and form a single supersyndicate under his leadership—and that was how he became one of the most powerful gang bosses in Moscow.

The new group was called the Lozanskaya, and it soon asserted its strength in a series of bloody skirmishes with the local mob, leaving the streets strewn with the mutilated bodies of rival gang bosses. Racketeering, extortion, robbery, and contract killings were its stock-in-trade. But Atlangeriev was a suave man with smoky good looks and an enterprising mind to match his wardrobe of well-cut suits, and he blended well with Russia’s emerging business elite. The gang quickly branched out under his command, taking over swaths of the city’s gas stations and car showrooms. That was how it established a lucrative relationship with Berezovsky.

The businessman made good money selling Ladas through dealerships under the gang’s control, and then he paid the Lozanskaya to provide protection as his car businesses grew rapidly in the early ’90s. When Berezovsky was attacked with a car bomb during a battle with the gang boss Sergei “Sylvester” Timofeev, some said it was Atlangeriev’s mob who had struck violently back on his behalf. And when the oligarch fell out of favor with Putin and fled to Britain, the Chechen crime lord kept in touch.

Now, in June of 2007, Atlangeriev was on his way to London, and the Russia watchers knew he was coming with orders to kill Berezovsky. The intelligence pointing to his involvement in a live FSB plot to eliminate the oligarch had come through six weeks earlier, and the protection officer had been dispatched to instruct Berezovsky not to meet him under any circumstances.

Atlangeriev’s movements and communications were monitored, and when he bought flights to London via Vienna, the protection officer received an urgent call from MI5. “He’s arriving at Heathrow,” the voice at the other end of the phone said. “Remove the target.”

The officer raced over to Down Street to tell Berezovsky his assassin was on the way and he needed to get out of the country immediately. As always, the oligarch perked up at the prospect of an adventure and flung open his office door with a flourish. “Warm up the aircraft!” he bellowed across the lobby to his secretary. “I need to leave today.”

Berezovsky took off for Israel, accompanied by a young officer who had just joined Specialist Protection after a spell as a London beat cop and couldn’t believe that this was his new world. The private jet landed at Ben Gurion Airport, and the party crossed the tarmac to a helicopter waiting to whisk them out to the coastal town of Eilat, where the oligarch’s £200 million superyacht rose like a gleaming shark’s fin from the turquoise waters of the Red Sea.

The rookie officer was shown aboard by an Amazonian hostess who took him to a private cabin, where a dinner suit was laid out on the bed in his exact size. There were deck clothes, too—shorts, sandals, polo shirts, shoes, and a cap—all branded with the yacht’s name, Thunder B. The vessel had an onboard wardrobe department with clothes in every measurement so the oligarch could keep his guests appropriately dressed whatever the weather. The young cop looked around him in disbelief and decided that if he was doing this, he might as well do it properly. He donned the dinner jacket and bow tie and made his way up on deck.

Back in London, Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism department had swung into high gear alongside the Specialist Protection unit to prepare a response plan for the assassin’s arrival. Now that the target was secure, Scotland Yard could afford to play cat and mouse with the assassin. Officers formed a “pursue and attack” plan: Surveillance teams would follow Atlangeriev around London for as long as possible in order to gather intelligence about his activities before swooping in and arresting him when it looked like he was ready to strike.

The hit man was not coming alone: He was traveling with a young boy, which looked like the same modus operandi one of Litvinenko’s assassins had employed in bringing his family to London as a cover for the hit. Maybe, the officers hoped, if they stayed on his tail long enough the new assassin might even lead them to a secret polonium warehouse in the heart of the city.

“I need pursuit teams. Gunships. Three surveillance teams—sixty officers on the ground,” the protection officer told Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism commander. “We need chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear teams in full protective gear sent in to swab all his luggage.”

The police chiefs agreed on the strategy—but then they were summoned to the Cabinet Office, where a meeting had been convened to brief ministers and officials from the Home Office, Foreign Office, and Downing Street. By then, Atlangeriev was in the air and time was short, but the officers met with resistance as they laid out their plan. If Scotland Yard got caught tailing an FSB agent around London, there would be a major public fuss. The diplomatic fallout with Russia would be another headache the government didn’t need. Couldn’t the hit man just be detained at the border? The officers pointed out that Atlangeriev hadn’t yet committed any arrestable offenses in Britain, and the intelligence implicating him in a murder plot couldn’t be revealed without exposing sensitive sources and listening posts in Moscow. It was essential to follow him in order to prove he really was here to kill Berezovsky before they could arrest him.

After some wrangling, the operation was approved—but the officers were instructed not to say a word to the media either before or afterward. If they were successful in apprehending Atlangeriev and journalists called with questions, their statement should be as short and uninformative as possible. “Police have arrested someone. End.” Berezovsky’s threat level was moved from “severe” to “critical”—meaning an attack was considered imminent.

Atlangeriev would arrive in just a few hours. An operations room was hastily set up, where commanding officers could coordinate the activities of surveillance teams on the ground, with hazardous materials units sweeping behind the assassin for radiation traces and armed response teams at the ready.

In a nearby room was a cabal of security-cleared officers tasked with monitoring a live intelligence feed from MI5 and MI6 as well as reading Atlangeriev’s text messages and listening to his phone calls in real time as soon as he landed. That classified information and intercepted material had to be kept out of the central evidence chain, otherwise it would have to be disclosed in court if Atlangeriev ever came to trial, which would reveal sensitive sources and methods. But when the officers in the intel cell picked up anything relevant, they were to bring it into the ops room and read it out to the senior commanding officer.

Once the ops room and the intel cell were up and running, the surveillance teams were stationed around the airport, and the hazmat crews donned their protective gear. It was time for police chiefs to contact bosses at Heathrow to prepare the ground for the assassin’s arrival.

The plane on which Atlangeriev landed was held on the airstrip for a little longer than usual. The hit man waited with the other passengers, unaware that his bag had been removed from the hold and was being searched and swabbed by officers in hazmat suits outside. When the passengers were allowed to disembark, Atlangeriev and his child accomplice breezed through passport control, collected their luggage from the carousel, and cleared customs with nothing to declare. The pair made their way out of the terminal building and approached the cab stand, where a black taxi was waiting. They climbed in.

London’s iconic black cabs had long been the protection officer’s secret weapon. Unbeknownst to most Londoners, Scotland Yard owned a secret squadron of such cabs for use in special operations, and the security and intelligence services also ran their own fleets of undercover taxis. The cars were so ubiquitous as to be invisible, so there was no more anonymous way to travel around the city. The protection officer had used them to move Tony Blair during an active assassination plot and to transport the British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie around London during his decade in hiding following the publication of The Satanic Verses. It was possible to make anyone, no matter how high-profile, disappear inside the passenger compartment of a black cab—and a well-timed taxi ride was often the best way to get up close and personal with a surveillance target.

Atlangeriev directed his taxi driver to the Hilton on Park Lane and settled back in the leather seat, unaware that he had just revealed where he was staying to the officers tracking his every move at Scotland Yard. The driver dropped the hit man and his young accomplice outside the hotel, and the pair made their way through the revolving doors at the base of the glowing blue skyscraper. Then officers from the intel cell came running into the ops room. Atlangeriev had placed a call to Berezovsky.

By the time his phone rang on board Thunder B, the oligarch was well prepared. The morning after his hasty escape from Britain, three British security officers had arrived in Eilat and boarded the yacht to brief him. It was a baking hot day, and the officers looked disheveled in sweat-dampened shorts and T-shirts, but they waved away Berezovsky’s largesse and made it clear they were there on serious business. Gathered around a table in the shade on the lower outside deck, they told him they needed his help to buy Scotland Yard some time. If Atlangeriev realized that Berezovsky was completely out of reach, he might just abort the mission and go back to Russia before the authorities had a chance to gather any intelligence. So when the would-be assassin called, they told him to act friendly and say he’d be available to meet in a few days’ time.

Berezovsky wasn’t ordinarily one to follow instructions, but he was relishing his leading role at the center of this live operation against an enemy agent, so he did as he was told when Atlangeriev called. Then he phoned Down Street and told his secretaries to be on high alert for the assassin’s arrival and to tell anyone who called that he was busy. After that, all that remained was to wait. He passed an enjoyable few days on board Thunder B, sunning himself on deck, scuba diving, and zooming around on his Jet Ski while the British authorities tracked his assassin around London.

Scotland Yard’s surveillance operatives found themselves on an unexpected sightseeing tour. They had hoped Atlangeriev might lead them to the heart of FSB activity in the capital, or possibly to a warehouse crammed with radiological weapons, but ever since his call to Berezovsky, the hit man had acted for all the world like a tourist showing a kid around the city. As he and his young companion traipsed through Trafalgar Square and past Buckingham Palace, the hazardous materials officers crept behind them swabbing and scanning for traces of toxins or radiation—but everything came up clean.

The officers judged that when Atlangeriev separated from the boy, that would be the indicator that he was gearing up to strike. They waited, but the sightseeing went on for days, and the protection officer began to get twitchy. Berezovsky was a busy man: he couldn’t stay on his yacht forever. Then finally word came back from the surveillance team that the hit man had set out from the Hilton alone.

“This is the critical moment,” the commanding officer shouted. Atlangeriev had dropped his easy touristic demeanor, and now he was visibly wary of being tailed. He performed textbook countersurveillance moves as he navigated the city—taking circuitous routes, doubling back on himself, and hopping on and off different modes of transportation to throw off anyone trying to follow. Between them, the surveillance teams just about managed to stay on his tail as he visited various addresses—but they couldn’t follow him inside without blowing their cover. Then a readout from the intel cell suggested that the hit man was planning to buy a gun.

“We need to take him off the board,” the commanding officer told the team. Scotland Yard called the officers guarding Berezovsky on Thunder B and told them to prepare him for his big moment. It was time to call his would-be assassin and propose a meeting.

That evening, three plainclothes police officers positioned themselves in the lobby at Down Street. The receptionists on the second floor had been asked to stay late to greet the assassin politely when he turned up, and they waited with trepidation as time ticked by without anyone appearing. After a while, they called downstairs to ask the elderly concierge at the front desk whether anyone had arrived to see Mr. Berezovsky. Yes, the old man said a little shakily, a gentleman had come in a few moments ago, and now there were three others with him in the lobby.

“What are the gentlemen doing now?” the receptionist asked. “The gentlemen are talking,” the concierge replied. “Three of them are lying down, and one is standing.”

When Atlangeriev entered the lobby, two of the officers had swooped in and pinned him to the floor before he reached the elevator, while the third flashed the concierge his police badge. The hit man was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder and taken into police custody, where he was interrogated for two days, while his child accomplice was taken into the care of social services.

But then the order came down to let him go without charge. It wouldn’t be possible to make charges stick without disclosing intelligence that would give away far too much about British sources in Moscow, the officers were told, and the diplomatic fallout from publicly accusing the Kremlin of ordering another assassination in Britain so soon after Litvinenko’s would have been catastrophic. So Atlangeriev was handed over to immigration officials who designated him a “persona non grata” and put him on a plane back to Russia. That, the officers were assured by their superiors, amounted to a “really strong diplomatic poke in the eye.”

There was a commotion in some quarters at Scotland Yard over the decision to send the assassin home, but others were more sanguine. The protection officer comforted himself with the thought that the FSB might have killed one exile on British soil, but now Scotland Yard had prevented the murder of another. The way he looked at it, that evened the score. He called Berezovsky and told him it was safe to come home.

By then journalists had gotten wind of the dramatic arrest in Mayfair and were inundating Scotland Yard with questions. The press bureau gave out the elliptical response the government had preordained, and when his jet landed, Berezovsky was told to say nothing. The one thing that would increase the threat to his life, he was told, would be to embarrass Russia over its failure to kill him. “Just lie low and keep your head down,” the protection officer said sternly.

Soon after, Berezovsky stood up in front of a packed press conference in central London and told journalists that Scotland Yard had just foiled a Kremlin plot to assassinate him. “I think the same people behind this plot were behind the plot against Alexander Litvinenko,” he said. “Not only people in general, but Putin personally.”

Berezovsky held back the details of who had come for him and how the plot had been stopped, but he told his friends he had to go public with the attempt on his life in order to protect himself. Keeping state secrets was a dangerous game, he said: it was safest that the whole world know the truth. And, of course, he had never been one to pass up the chance for a dramatic press conference.

The protection officer was furious. “We’ve been fucked up the arse,” he shouted at the MI5 liaison officer in charge of monitoring threats against Berezovsky. He couldn’t shake the notion that he and his colleagues had unwittingly become pawns in Berezovsky’s big game.

Six months after the press conference, Scotland Yard received a report of the fate that had awaited Atlangeriev upon his return to Moscow. As he walked out of a traditional city-center restaurant on a bitterly cold winter night, the crime lord had been assailed by two men and bundled into the back of a car, which sped off into the darkness. Berezovsky’s failed assassin had been driven out into the woods and shot at point-blank range in the head. ●



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