FRESH AIR: Journalist Luke Harding has an insider’s understanding of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Harding served as Moscow bureau chief for the British newspaper The Guardian from 2007 until 2011. During his tenure, Russian agents followed him, tapped his phone and repeatedly broke into his home. “I almost feel like I could write the KGB handbook, I lived it for quite a long time,” he tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.
Harding was expelled from Russia after four years, in part due to his reporting on Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who defected to England and died in 2006 after drinking tea dosed with polonium-210, a radioactive poison. Litvinenko’s murder is the subject of Harding’s new book, A Very Expensive Poison. Harding understands how Russia’s reach extends far beyond its borders, and he takes very seriously the issue of Russia’s interference in the U.S. election. “I don’t want to sound too hyperbolic, but it’s really an assault on the Western liberal order,” he says.
Harding adds that Putin’s aim is to disrupt the politics that have dominated America and Europe for the last 70 years. “[Putin] wants to turn the clock back to an age of great powers, to almost an imperial era of the 19th century, where strong sovereign nations didn’t talk about values or human rights or anything like that,” he says. “They cut deals, they had summits, they made grand bargains … and they divvied up, they divided the world into spheres of influence.” MORE