Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Murder That Strikes to the Heart of Modern Russia

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Murder That Strikes to the Heart of Modern Russia

Article excerpt

Byline: ROBERT FOX

A VERY EXPENSIVE POISON: THE DEFINITIVE STORY OF THE MURDER OF LITVINENKO AND RUSSIA'S WAR WITH THE WEST by Luke Harding (Faber, PS12.99) NOT long into his enforced exile in Britain in 2001 Alexander Litvinenko received chilling news from a former colleague in Moscow's security apparatus. "In the course of the conversation, Litvinenko later recalled, Shebalin said 'you have been sentenced to extrajudicial elimination; after the publication of this book you will definitely be killed'."

On November 1, 2006, he was poisoned by a cup of tea in the Pine Bar in the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair. Three weeks later he died in agony in University College Hospital and the photos of his listless body the day before his death went viral on global media.

The story of the death and times of Alexander Litvinenko is one of the most extraordinary fables of our time a tale of greed, power, mafia skulduggery in Russia and the world, and bloody-minded heroism.

There is something of the diary of a murder foretold in Luke Harding's brilliant account of the killing and its continuing resonance. By the time he faded from this world, Litvinenko knew who had killed him, and how, and that it most likely had been done under the influence and knowledge, if not direct orders, of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Litvinenko had been an intelligence officer and analyst, working with the KGB's successor the FSB, though he had not been a spy as such. He then turned critic of the Yeltsin and Putin regimes, and what he saw as the burgeoning Russian mafia state. So he was forced to flee.

He was murdered by the administration of a nuclear toxin, polonium-210, lethal in microscopic doses, and virtually undetectable only in the hands of the Laurel and Hardy assassins sent to London this turned out to be far from the case. Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun would make Tintin's pals the Thompson twins look like super sleuths. They failed in the first attempt to administer the polonium, and had to make a return visit with a fresh supply of the liquid, a tricky by-product of Russia's nuclear and chemical weapons industry. …

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