Russian Agent Defects, Alleging Plot to Kill Berezovsky

Article excerpt

A former Russian intelligence colonel defected to Britain in November, claiming he had been ordered by his superiors to kill a media and oil tycoon who helped Vladimir Putin rise to the Russian presidency.

Fearing for his life, Alexander Litvinenko asked for political asylum after flying into London with his wife and child and was hurried away to a secret location by British intelligence officials.

Diplomatic observers say that Litvinenko may have been caught in the middle of a power straggle between the "spooks and crooks" at the center of the alliance that backed Putin and persuaded his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, to resign before last winter's presidential election.

According to Litvinenko, he was instructed in 1998 to kill Boris Berezovsky, who fell out with Putin this winter shortly after the former spy was elected president.

On his arrival in London, Litvinenko issued a terse statement saying he had fled as a result of the "permanent persecution on the part of the Russian special services." He alleged that threats had been made against the lives of his wife and child.

"I have repeatedly asked prosecution agencies to protect me and my family. But there was no reaction to my requests," he said.

British political sources say it is likely that the defector's request for asylum will be granted -- if for no other reason than that he may have information on who was behind the mysterious apartment bombings in Moscow last year that the Kremlin blamed on Chechen rebels.

There has been some circumstantial evidence to suggest that the bombings, which helped to rally Russian public opinion behind the war effort in Chechnya, was the handiwork of either Russian military-intelligence or security units linked to the Kremlin. …