It is unfortunate that the murder of Alexander Litvinenko has coincided with the release of a new Bond film in Britain. The result has been that the British media has been tempted to treat the assassination of a British citizen as just an extension of the Bond series – witness the headline in the Sun newspaper, "From Russia with Lunch".
But I must say that the papers probably accurate reflect the public mood. The Litvinenko killing has become one of those “water cooler” stories, which are the subject of fascinated conversation by lots of ordinary people. And to judge from the conversations I’ve overheard in London, the tone is pretty much one of hilarity. At a breakfast with a bunch of corporate types last Monday, somebody made a reference to "Russian sushi" to guffaws all round. Then on Saturday I was at a lunch at the Carlton Club, the home of Tory London (not my usual hang-out, I assure you) and the old gentlemen could scarcely contain their mirth as they discussed the poisoning. But while Vladimir Putin may be regarded in much of Britain as simply the latest in a long line of amusing Bond villains, that is a signal that the Russians seem to have lost the public-relations battle about responsibility for the killing. Whatever the real truth, in all the casual conversations I’ve overheard, everybody seems to assume that the order to kill Litvinenko came from the Kremlin.