Putin, Poison, and Murder: The Recent Murder-by-Poison of Russian KGB/FSB Defector Alexander Litvinenko Is a Potent Warning about the Dangers of Our New Security "Partnership" with Putin's Russia

By Jasper, William F. | The New American, January 22, 2007 | Go to article overview

Putin, Poison, and Murder: The Recent Murder-by-Poison of Russian KGB/FSB Defector Alexander Litvinenko Is a Potent Warning about the Dangers of Our New Security "Partnership" with Putin's Russia


Jasper, William F., The New American


As Alexander Litvinenko lay dying under tight police protection at London's University College hospital, he pointed an accusing finger at the man he believed responsible for ordering his assassination: Russian President Vladimir Putin. The dying man had good cause for suspecting Putin. Abundant evidence, including a radioactive trail of polonium-210, the substance used to poison him, leads right back to Putin's operatives in Moscow. In addition, the Kremlin's heavy-handed tactics to thwart the efforts of British police detectives sent to Russia to investigate the poisoning do little for the credibility of Putin's protestations of innocence and his pledges to do everything possible to help solve the crime.

Mr. Litvinenko had become ill on November 1, after a meeting at London's Mayfair Millennium Hotel with three Russian "businessmen": Andrei Lugovoi, Dmitry Kovtun, and Vyacheslav Sokolenko. Lugovoi acknowledges that he is a former agent of the FSB, the renamed KGB. Litvinenko was sure that he had been poisoned later that evening, when he was seized with violent vomiting. After three weeks of agonizing deterioration, in which the fit 43-year-old Litvinenko lost his hair and shrunk to a shell of his former self, he died on November 23.

Even as his life was ebbing away, Alexander and his wife, Marina, had been hoping for a recovery. "I did not lose hope," she told the Sunday Times of London. "He was a very handsome man, but each day for him was like 10 years, he became older in how he looked." Mrs. Litvinenko added: "Even until the last day, and the day before when he became unconscious, I thought that he would be OK. We were both completely sure he would recover. We had been talking about bone-marrow transplants and looking to the future."

The poison, initially thought to be thallium, turned out to be polonium-210, which Dr. Andrea Sella, lecturer in chemistry at University College London, told reporters was "one of the rarest substances on the planet" and few could obtain it. "This is not some random killing," Dr. Sella said. "This is not a tool chosen by a group of amateurs. These people had some serious resources behind them."

Polonium-210 leaves a radioactive trail and, as many news stories have noted, that trail has turned up wherever Lugovoi and Kovtun went in London, Germany, and Russia: a hotel restaurant, airplanes, an apartment, a soccer stadium. One of the more important polonium traces is on a passport photo of Kovtun, which he left at the Hamburg City Hall in Germany, where he had applied for a residency permit two days before meeting with Litvinenko.

When British police detectives from Scotland Yard went to Russia to interview a number of witnesses and suspects, including the three men who had met with Litvinenko, they were told that two of the main objects of interest, Lugovoi and Kovtun, were in hospital quarantine for radiation poisoning. The detectives were also informed by Russia's chief prosecutor Yuri Chaika that, in the words of a Reuters report, they would be "virtually relegated to the role of observers," as Russian police carried out the interviews. Mr. Chaika, a Putin flunky, further made it clear that no suspects would be extradited to England. He has kept the British detectives on a very short leash.

Spokesmen for Putin have denounced suspicions of Putin's involvement as "absurd" and part of a frame-up and conspiracy to discredit Putin and Russia at home and abroad. As to be expected, the Russian press, reflecting Putin's control, points the accusing finger at Putin's enemies, most frequently citing Boris Berezovsky, a former Putin ally now in exile in London, as the likely culprit. Not surprisingly, many journalists in the West have picked up and parroted this theme as well.

However, in addition to considerable evidence tying Putin to the murder through his secret-service minions, it is clear that he--not Berezovsky--qualifies as the top candidate possessing the classical criteria for a crime suspect: motive, opportunity, and means. …

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