Let us pretend that we have established that Lesin was assassinated, but have no idea who did it. We would do what all detectives did before DNA testing: look for motive.
Lesin was a former advisor to Putin. Almost by definition, he possessed knowledge exceedingly dangerous to individuals in the Kremlin. The Daily Mail claims a Panama leak connection: “Murdered over money? Panama leaks reveal that Putin’s former media chief who died in a Washington hotel room was linked to offshore company ‘used by the Russian leader'”.
Quoting another Daily Mail article “Yet some 16 months earlier, Senator Roger Wicker had called for a Justice Department probe into whether Lesin was engaged in money laundering.” Quoting further,
Former Russian vice premier Alfred Kokh openly asked this week whether Lesin could have been murdered – like a new Alexander Litvinenko, a Putin foe poisoned by radioactive polonium poured into his tea in London nine years ago.
Kokh spoke amid fears in Moscow that he was ready to trade his inside knowledge of the Putin court for an end to any American investigation into the propriety of his wealth.
Was Lesin of such character that he could have provided assurances to the Kremlin that he would not turn coat?
- He was a heavy drinker.
- He was prone to antisocial outbursts.
- He was in Washington, which according to Kokh is a very boring town. Quoting The Daily Mail, “Questioning why Putin’s former media manipulator was in the US capital, Kokh asked in an online posting: ‘What’s so interesting about Washington? I’ve been there quite a few times. ‘And I’d answer – nothing. At all. It’s a boring city without a touch of spice.'”
Since the Russians possess more sophisticated means of assassination, such as nominally undetectable poisons, why was Lesin beaten? And it has been asked, if Lesin was murdered, why in Washington and not in Russia, where he had recently been? Lesin had been exporting his wealth, removing an important lever of behavioral control. A compatible answer is that it was intended to be a visceral warning to all expatriates: Russia can reach you.
It may have been technologically sophisticated. Since the full knowledge of the coroner is not available in open source, only speculative examples can be given. Lesin’s encounter with an assassin could have been not inside his room, but elsewhere. A subdural hematoma, caused by a hypothetical gadget, could produce an immediate feeling of only mild illness, allowing Lesin to retreat to his room. But such hematomas, untreated, tend to cause death within hours.
The theory incorporates a number of reasoning techniques, which sum to what is called a suspicion. Productive use of this combination of techniques has not been formalized, and it should be. The ability of the individual to execute a theory of this type varies widely. Dysrationalia is common. But it seems that the construction of a theory of suspicion has these characteristics:
- Postulates of low quality, so that individually, they have a high probability of being false.
- High internal consistency.
- A structure that results in a theory with a higher level of confidence than isolated consideration of the individual postulates. It occurs when consistency implies dependency. Part of this is analogous to Feynman diagrams of physics: The chance of arriving at a state is the sum of all the ways of getting there.
- Global clauses that, while not linked in any specific way, bias the probabilities. Example: “They’ve done this sort of thing before.”
If I were not a game player, and were asked to assign a probability to the truth of the theory, I might say slightly better than chance. But I have been a game player, in the IARPA program/competition FWE (Forcasting World Events), in 2013-2014. The game was so constructed that to improve one’s score, one had to assign a probability, either positive or negative, higher than one’s cumulative average. Mine was 80.535, with a rank of #9/4460. To use this question to improve my score, I would have to assign high certainty to my prediction.
In the IARPA/FWE frame of mind, how would I grade the theory that this hit came from the Kremlin? Better than 90%. Perhaps you would then ask, what is my estimate that Vladimir Putin approved the killing? Solely to maintain my score, I would exercise the other FWE option, to decline the question.
The dynamics of the Kremlin are far more complex than one might suppose. There is a popular desire to use events such as these for political purposes. The event of Lesin’s death/murder is vulnerable to this, because so little is known, at least in open sources, about the inner workings of the Kremlin. Only preciously obtained human intelligence can reveal it. What is revealed is guarded with the strictest secrecy, or the sources would not last long.
Putin’s rule is a mixture of persuasion, compulsion, and consent of the ruled. Every mold of rule has different implications. If we decide he is a tribal chieftain, then he is surrounded by a circle of confidants and confidence. If it should break down, the chieftain is deposed. The chieftain is obliged to protect. If someone demands protection, what does he do?
So the question posed as, “Did Putin order the killing of Lesin?” is the wrong question. The correct question is to understand the entire process of decision, of who was pressured, who was threatened, who encouraged, and who acquiesced. And although it has never been feasible to stop assassinations on American soil, we want to understand the execution.
We want to understand these things because knowledge is power, not mere political capital.