In the latest interview given by Andrei Lugovoi, the man Great Britain wants Russia to extradite for poisoning the dissident Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium, there was a remarkable moment that has not been fully appreciated. Lugovoi, still rather diffident but with unmistakable pride, mentioned that when he is seen in public, he usually finds himself surrounded by people who want to shake his hand, congratulate him on his valor, and ask for his autograph.
“Well, have you thought about a career in politics?” the interviewer asked. Unfortunately, the interviewer did not pursue the matter any further. This is a pity, because Lugovoi’s status in Russia tells us much about my country in the seventh year of President Vladmir Putin’s rule.
Perhaps surprisingly, Lugovoi seems not to have wondered why he is enjoying such an enthusiastic reception from his compatriots. Are ordinary Russians showing solidarity with a victim unjustly hounded by the British Crown Prosecution Service?
That seems unlikely. When did Russians ever ask a victim for an autograph? I myself have been attracting the interest of the Russian Public Prosecutor’s Office for several months now, and I have yet to encounter any public support in the street, let alone a single autograph hunter.