Warning: Opposing Putin Hazardous to Your Health

This month has seen two startling confirmations that Vladimir Putin's Kremlin is engaged in state-sponsored murder for political motives.

First, on July 8 a "senior security official" in the British government told the BBC that "we very strongly believe the Litvinenko case to have had some state involvement."

KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko, who had been aggressively publicizing allegations that the Kremlin had detonated bombs in apartment buildings in Moscow in order to blame the Chechen rebels and justify a renewed military incursion into their breakaway region, was murdered in London in late 2006 using radioactive toxins that have been traced to Russia.

Then, on July 16 the Russian wire service RIA Novosti reported that "Russia has refused to extradite a former Ukrainian security service deputy head suspected of involvement in the poisoning of President Viktor Yushchenko in 2004."

Yuschenko, of course, is the strongly pro-West leader who has been urging Ukraine closer to the West and seeking NATO membership. The basis for the refusal? The alleged assassin "fled to Russia and received Russian citizenship."

So just as Russia has refused to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, whom the British government has fingered for his involvement in the Litvinenko murder, claiming that a Russian citizen cannot be sent to a foreign land for trial (even though Russia has signed a treaty authorizing this), it likewise refuses to extradite Vladimir Satsyuk, former deputy head of the Ukrainian secret police. Russia has also been accused of giving safe harbor to suspected Serbian war criminals. As RIA notes: "Yushchenko became seriously ill in early September 2004, the day after attending a reception and dinner with Ukrainian security services leaders."

"Seriously ill" is a mighty understatement. Yuschenko was poisoned with deadly dioxin, resulting in massive facial deformities, and only barely managed to survive the incident.

Consider this scenario: While campaigning for a third term as the "president" of Russia, Vladimir Putin is stricken with a deadly poison and his face massively disfigured. Miraculously, he survives and goes on to win "election." Russian authorities identify the alleged assassin, a ranking figure in the Russian secret police. But before they can arrest him, he flees to America. The U.S. confers citizenship on the assassin, and when Russia demands extradition America refuses on that basis.

How do you suppose Russia would react?

State-sponsored propaganda campaign Russia Today launched an all-out offensive seeking to blunt the damage these events are inflicting on the Kremlin's reputation. Quoting only the Russian paper Izvestia, RT states that Litvinenko "provided British and Spanish special services with information about Russia's top mafia members in exile. The theory goes that he could have been the victim of a contract killing by the mafia in revenge." And then three days after the BBC report aired, the Kremlin was "shocked, shocked" to discover an alleged spy in the British embassy in Moscow, namely Christopher Bowers, head of the embassy's trade and investment section.