A recent editorial in the National Post, tells us of the death of former Soviet spy, Alexander Litvinenko who suddenly took ill in London in 2006. He had provided co-operation with British intelligence, had worked with other Russian dissidents and had been an outspoken critic of Russia’s then (and now) president, Vladimir Putin. Litvinenko’s condition rapidly worsened. He died a slow, horrible death of radiation poisoning.
Last week, a British report into Litvinenko’s death was released. The report concluded that two suspects did indeed poison Litvinenko with polonium-210, a radioactive substance that is extremely hard to obtain without state support. It further found that Russian intelligence was almost certainly behind the operation and identified Putin as the likely source of the order to kill Latvinenko.
Nobody condones the slow, horrible death of Litvinenko. However, before we condemn Putin as the real villain and a heartless thug, let us consider what Adam Hochschild wrote in his book, “King Leopold’s Ghost.”
In the 1960s, Patrice Lumumba became the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Congo. He believed that independence alone was not enough to free Africa of its colonial past. The continent must also cease to be an economic colony of Europe. His fiery speeches set off alarm bells in Western capitals. Congo was rich in copper, cobalt, diamonds, gold, tin, manganese and zinc. Less than two months after being chosen prime minister, CIA director, Allen Dulles, authorized his assassination. In a key meeting, another official who was present, recalled that Eisenhower clearly clearly told CIA chief, Allen Dulles, that “Lumumba should be eliminated.”
Many options for dealing with this “problem” were discussed, including poison. But it proved hard to get close to Lumumba. He was eventually arrested, repeatedly beaten and secretly shot in Elizabethville. A Belgium pilot flew him there. A Belgium officer commanded the firing squad. Two Belgians cut up his body and dissolved it in acid, leaving no martyr’s grave. Nobody would ever know whether Lumumba, had he survived, would have stayed true to the hopes and dreams for so many people in Africa. The United States, Belgium and their allies saw to it that he never had a chance.
Early on, Western powers viewed Mobutu, then chief of staff of the army, as someone who would look after their interests. He received cash payments from the CIA and Western military personnel. Later he met President Kennedy at the White House who gave him an airplane for his personal use – and a U.S. Air force crew to fly it for him. With the backing of Western powers, Mobutu staged a coup in 1965 that made him the country’s dictator.
The United States gave him well over a billion dollars. European powers – especially France – contributed more. For their hefty investment, the U.S. and its allies got a regime that was reliably anti-communist. Ronald Reagan received him several times in the White House, praising him as a “voice of good sense and good will.” George W.H. Bush greeted him as “one of our most valued friends.” All Mobutu brought to his country was a change of name, from the Congo to Zaire.
Most observers view the Cold War as a clash of ideologies – Capitalism vs. Communism, but fail to see it was also a religious war – Christian Europe and the Catholic Church against godless Russia. From the hills of North Korea to the jungles of Vietnam to the burning sands of the Middle East and Africa to the Bay of Pigs to the puppets and banana Republics of South America, we have blindly blundered on. We seem to have a nasty habit of assassinating, and violently overthrowing duly elected officials – the latest being in Ukraine that led to the annexation of Crimea, catching the West flat-footed. Putin is a history buff and a great chess player. He remembers all too well the Berlin crisis when Khrushchev told Kennedy, after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, that America had lost its monopoly in atomic weapons and that the Soviet Union had nuclear warheads aimed at England, France and Uncle Sam. Kennedy later conceded that he preferred a wall to a war.
Putin is now flexing his muscles. Canada, along with other Western powers chronically under spend on defense. Former prime minister, Stephen Harper made a great show of trash-talking Russian strongman, Putin, telling him to get out of Ukraine. Harper is out and Putin is still in Ukraine. Australian prime minster, Tony Abbot threatened to shirt-front him. We haven’t heard from him since then. In the meanwhile, Putin has made it abundantly clear that Russia is the only country that can reduce America to atomic ash.
The Cold War is not over.