Amy Knight missed a trick. In her book Orders to Kill, which I reviewed a few weeks ago, she recounts the stories of a whole series of people in whose deaths Vladimir Putin was allegedly involved. But she missed one – the former mayor of St Petersburg, and Putin’s one-time mentor, Anatoly Sobchak. It’s a strange error, for if the BBC is to be believed, Putin may have had a hand in Sobchak’s death too. It explains why he’s allowing Sobchak’s daughter, Ksenia, to run for president this March – he feels guilty.
‘What?’ I hear you ask. ‘Sobchak was murdered?’ If you’re old enough to remember such things, you probably thought that his death in 2000 was of natural causes. BBC reporter Gabriel Gatehouse has his doubts about this. He writes:
Some have suggested Putin may have had a hand in his death. Did Sobchak have something on him? [Sobchak’s widow Lyudmila] Narusova dismissed that idea out of hand.
I went back and looked at the footage of the funeral.
Putin really is distraught. His eyes are red, he seems to struggle to swallow as he embraces Lyudmila Narusova. Putin is not an actor. Nor is he prone to public displays of emotion. So it’s reasonable to assume that he is struggling with some genuine grief. Or is it something else. Guilt?
“There were people who were manoeuvring Putin into power,” Narusova told me.
She’s right. Back then, Putin was a vehicle to power for various factions inside the Kremlin. To some extent he still is.
If Sobchak was murdered, was it by one of those factions who feared his mentor’s hold over him? Maybe. And if so, did the old KGB officer realise his old friend died in the furtherance of Project Putin. It’s only a suspicion, but I’m beginning to think so.
Gatehouse doesn’t actually produce any facts linking Putin to Sobchak’s death. In fact, he points out that Putin was truly distraught, and elsewhere in his piece Gatehouse remarks that this is about the only time that Putin has been seen to cry in public. So, why does he think that Putin in some way felt guilty about Sobchak’s death? He doesn’t explain.
As in so many of these cases, what we have here is pure speculation and argument by means of insinuation, devoid of any actual evidence. Gatehouse admits that, ‘It’s only a suspicion’. Why then does the BBC publish it? All sorts of people suspect all sorts of things for no good reason. That doesn’t mean that premier media agencies give them space to print their crazy theories. If this was the Daily Beast, one might excuse that sort of thing. But this is the BBC. It’s meant to uphold certain standards of journalism, and as such not make wild accusations on the basis of absolutely nothing.
At least, one might imagine that that was the case. But what this piece indicates is that when it comes to Russia and Putin all the normal rules seem to go out the window and any sort of unwarranted ‘suspicion’ is permitted to be aired. What on earth is the point of this article? There can be only one – to taint Putin with some sort of responsibility for Sobchak’s death and so blacken his name further. It seems that that is reason enough to publish it. Evidence be damned!