Alexander Litvinenko

This name uses Eastern Slavic naming customs; the patronymic is Valterovich and the family name is Litvinenko.
Alexander Litvinenko
Алекса́ндр Литвине́нко

Russia (defected)

United Kingdom
Service KGB/FSB (defected)

Birth name Aleksándr Vál'terovich Litvinénko
Born 30 August 1962
Voronezh, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Died 23 November 2006 (aged 44)
London, England, United Kingdom
Cause of
Radiation poisoning
Nationality Soviet Union (1962–1991)
Russian Federation
(1991–his death)
United Kingdom (2006–his death)
  • Nataliya (m. 1981; div. 1994)
  • Marina (m. 1994)
  • Alexander
  • Sonia
  • Anatoly

Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko (Russian: Алекса́ндр Ва́льтерович Литвине́нко; IPA: [ɐlʲɪˈksandr ˈvaltərəvʲɪtɕ lʲɪtvʲɪˈnʲɛnkə]; 30 August 1962[2][3] [4 December 1962 by father's account][4] – 23 November 2006) was a former officer of the Russian FSB secret service who specialised in tackling organised crime[1][5] – according to US diplomats, Litvinenko coined the phrase Mafia state.[6] In November 1998, Litvinenko and several other FSB officers publicly accused their superiors of ordering the assassination of the Russian tycoon and oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Litvinenko was arrested the following March on charges of exceeding the authority of his position. He was acquitted in November 1999 but re-arrested before the charges were again dismissed in 2000. He fled with his family to London and was granted asylum in the United Kingdom, where he worked as a journalist, writer and consultant for the British intelligence services.

During his time in London, Litvinenko wrote two books, Blowing Up Russia: Terror from Within and Lubyanka Criminal Group, wherein he accused the Russian secret services of staging the Russian apartment bombings and other terrorism acts in an effort to bring Vladimir Putin to power. He also accused Putin of ordering the murder in October 2006 of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

On 1 November 2006, Litvinenko suddenly fell ill and was hospitalised in what was established as a case of poisoning by radioactive polonium-210 which resulted in his death on 23 November. He became the first known victim of lethal Polonium 210-induced acute radiation syndrome.[7] The events leading up to this are a matter of controversy, spawning numerous theories relating to his poisoning and death. A British murder investigation pointed to Andrey Lugovoy, a member of Russia's Federal Protective Service, as the prime suspect. Britain demanded that Lugovoy be extradited, which is against the Constitution of Russia, which directly prohibits[8] extradition of Russian citizens. Russia denied the extradition, leading to the cooling of relations between Russia and the United Kingdom.

After Litvinenko's death, his widow, Marina, pursued a vigorous campaign on behalf of her husband through the Litvinenko Justice Foundation. In October 2011, she won the right for an inquest into her husband's death to be conducted by a coroner in London; the inquest was repeatedly set back by issues relating to examinable evidence.[9] A public inquiry began on 27 January 2015,[10] and concluded in January 2016 that Litvinenko's murder was an FSB operation, that was probably personally approved by Vladimir Putin.[11]

Early life and career

Alexander Litvinenko was born in the Russian city of Voronezh in 1962.[12] After he graduated from a Nalchik secondary school in 1980 he was drafted into the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs as a Private. After a year of service, he matriculated in the Kirov Higher Command School in Vladikavkaz. In 1981, Litvinenko married Nataliya, an accountant, with whom he had a son, Alexander, and a daughter, Sonia. This marriage ended in divorce in 1994 and in the same year Litvinenko married Marina, a ballroom dancer and fitness instructor, with whom he had a son, Anatoly.[13] After graduation in 1985, Litvinenko became a platoon commander in the Dzerzhinsky Division of the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was assigned to the 4th Company, where among his duties was the protection of valuable cargo while in transit.[2][14][15] In 1986 he became an informant when he was recruited by the MVD's KGB counterintelligence section and in 1988 he was officially transferred to the Third Chief Directorate of the KGB, Military Counter Intelligence.[14] Later that year, after studying for a year at the Novosibirsk Military Counter Intelligence School, he became an operational officer and served in KGB military counterintelligence until 1991.[14][16]

Career in Russian security services

In 1991, Litvinenko was promoted to the Central Staff of the Federal Counterintelligence Service, specialising in counter-terrorist activities and infiltration of organised crime. He was awarded the title of "MUR veteran" for operations conducted with the Moscow criminal investigation department, the MUR.[17] Litvinenko also saw active military service in many of the so-called "hot spots" of the former USSR and Russia.[18] During the First Chechen War Litvinenko planted several FSB agents in Chechnya. Although he was often called a "Russian spy" by western press, throughout his career he was not an 'intelligence agent' and did not deal with secrets beyond information on operations against organised criminal groups.[14][19][20]

Litvinenko met Boris Berezovsky in 1994 when he took part in investigations into an assassination attempt on the oligarch. He later began to moonlight for Berezovsky and was responsible for the oligarch's security.[3][14] Litvinenko's employment under Berezovsky and other security services personnel was illegal, but the state somewhat tolerated it to retain staff who were at the time underpaid.[3][14] Thus, Litvinenko's employment for the controversial businessman and others was not investigated. Often such inquiries in Russia were selective and targeted only at those who had stepped out of line.[14]

In 1997, Litvinenko was promoted to the FSB Directorate of Analysis and Suppression of Criminal Groups, with the title of senior operational officer and deputy head of the Seventh Section.[21] According to Dimitri Simes, the Directorate was viewed as much as a part of organised crime as it was of law enforcement.[22]

Claims against FSB leadership

According to Litvinenko's widow, Marina, while her husband was employed in the FSB he discovered numerous links among members of the top brass of Russian law enforcement agencies and Russian mafia groups, such as the Solntsevo gang. Berezovsky arranged a meeting for him with the Director of the FSB, Mikhail Barsukov, and the Deputy Director of Internal affairs, Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, to discuss the alleged corruption problems, with no result. This led him to the conclusion that the entire system was corrupt.[23] According to US diplomats, Litvinenko coined the phrase Mafia state.[6]

In December 1997 Litvinenko claimed he received an order to kill Berezovsky. He did not inform his part-time employer until 20 March 1998.[14][24] According to his widow, on 25 July 1998, the day on which Vladimir Putin replaced Nikolay Kovalyov as the Director of the Federal Security Service, Berezovsky introduced Litvinenko to Putin. Berezovsky claimed that he had helped Putin to take the Director's position.[25] According to his widow, Litvinenko reported to Putin on corruption in the FSB, but Putin was unimpressed.[25] According to Litvinenko, Putin was involved with a corrupt military general in the Russian army when Putin was a Deputy for Economic Affairs to the Mayor of St. Petersburg. Litvenenko was doing an investigation into the general and Uzbek drug barons and believed that Putin tried to stall the investigation to save his reputation.[26]

On 13 November 1998, Berezovsky wrote an open letter to Putin in Kommersant. He accused heads of the Directorate of Analysis and Suppression of Criminal Groups Major-General Yevgeny Khokholkov, N. Stepanov, A. Kamyshnikov, N. Yenin of ordering his assassination.[27]

Four days later Litvinenko and four other officers appeared together in a press conference at the Russian news agency Interfax. All officers worked for both FSB in the Directorate of Analysis and Suppression of Criminal Groups and for Boris Berezovsky.[14] They repeated the allegation made by Berezovsky.[14][24] The officers also claimed they were ordered to kill Mikhail Trepashkin who was also present at the press conference, and to kidnap a brother of the businessman Umar Dzhabrailov.[28]

In 2007, Sergey Dorenko provided The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal with a complete copy of an interview he conducted in April 1998 for ORT, a television station, with Litvinenko and his fellow employees. The interview, of which only excerpts were shown in 1998, shows the FSB officers, who were disguised in masks or dark glasses, claim that their bosses had ordered them to kill, kidnap or frame prominent Russian politicians and businesspeople.

Jim Heintz of the Associated Press opined that although Berezovsky does not appear in the interview, he has an omnipresence in it, given that the officers worked for him, and the interview was taped by Dorenko, a Russian journalist who was an employee of ORT owned in part by Berezovsky.[29]

Dismissal from the FSB

After holding the press conference, Litvinenko was dismissed from the FSB.[30] Later, in an interview with Yelena Tregubova, Putin said that he personally ordered the dismissal of Litvinenko, stating, "I fired Litvinenko and disbanded his unit ...because FSB officers should not stage press conferences. This is not their job. And they should not make internal scandals public."[31] Litvinenko also believed that Putin was behind his arrest. He said, "Putin had the power to decide whether to pass my file to the prosecutors or not. He always hated me. And there was a bonus for him: by throwing me to the wolves he distanced himself from Boris [Berezovsky] in the eyes of FSB's generals."[32]

Flight from Russia and asylum in the United Kingdom

In October 2000, in violation of an order not to leave Moscow, Litvinenko and his family travelled to Turkey, possibly via Ukraine.[33] While in Turkey, Litvinenko applied for asylum at the United States Embassy in Ankara, but his application was denied.[33] Henry Plater-Zyberk opined that the denial may have been based on possible American opinions that Litvinenko's knowledge was of little benefit and that he might create problems.[14] With the help of Alexander Goldfarb, Litvinenko bought air tickets for the Istanbul-London-Moscow flight,[34] and asked for political asylum at Heathrow Airport during the transit stop on 1 November 2000.[35] Political asylum was granted on 14 May 2001,[36] not because of his knowledge on intelligence matters, according to Litvinenko, but rather on humanitarian grounds.[14] While in London he became a journalist for Chechenpress and an author. He also joined Berezovsky in campaigning against Putin's government.[37] In October 2006 he became a naturalised British citizen with residence in Whitehaven.[38]

Cooperation with MI6

In October 2007, the Daily Mail, citing "diplomatic and intelligence sources," claimed Litvinenko was paid about £2,000 per month by the UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) at the time of his murder. John Scarlett, the head of MI6 (who was once based in Moscow), was allegedly personally involved in recruiting him.[19] In May 2008, The Independent opined that whilst Litvinenko's co-operation with MI6 would likely never be confirmed, an MI6 retainer that he was reported to have been receiving suggested his systematic co-operation.[39]

Litvinenko's widow, Marina Litvinenko, has stated that her husband co-operated with the British MI6 and MI5, working as a consultant and helping the agencies to combat Russian organised crime in Europe.[40][41]

In February 2012, Litvinenko's father, Valter, apologised for what he called his personal "slander campaign" against the Russian government. Before the confession by Marina Litvinenko, he had publicly blamed the Russian security services for his son's death. In an interview Valter Litvinenko said that if he had known at the time that his son was a British intelligence agent, he would not have made such accusations.[42]

During the public inquiry started in January 2015, it was confirmed that Litvinenko was recruited by MI6 as an informant in 2003, two years after he arrived in London, given an encrypted phone and assigned a minder, “Martin”, who had a meeting with Litvinenko the day before he was poisoned.[43]

Alleged threats against Litvinenko

Mikhail Trepashkin, a former FSB officer, stated that in 2002 he had warned Litvinenko that an FSB unit was assigned to assassinate him.[44] In spite of this, Litvinenko often travelled overseas with no security arrangements, and freely mingled with the Russian community in the United Kingdom, and often received journalists at his home.[14][45] In January 2007, the Polish newspaper Dziennik revealed that a target with a photo of Litvinenko on it was used for shooting practice by the Vityaz Training Centre in Balashikha in October 2002.[46] The centre, run by Sergey Lyusyuk, is not affiliated with the government, and trains bodyguards, debt collectors and private security forces,[47] although in November 2006 the centre was used by the Vityaz for a qualification examination due to their own centre being under renovation.[47] The targets, which Lyusyuk says were bought in the Olympic Market, were also photographed when the chairman of the Federation Council of Russia Sergei Mironov visited the centre and met Lyusyuk on 7 November 2006.[46][47] When asked why the photographs of Mironov's visit were removed from the centre's website Lyusyuk stated, "(T)hose Poles are up to something" and added that Mironov didn't see the targets and knew nothing about them.[47]

Allegations of blackmail activities

A series of newspaper articles by Julia Svetlichnaja and James Heartfield based on interviews that they had conducted with Litvinenko were published, beginning 27 hours after Litvinenko's death with an article in the Daily Telegraph. Eight days later The Observer published an article in which Svetlichnaja alleged that Litvinenko said he was planning to "blackmail or sell sensitive information about all kinds of powerful people, including oligarchs, corrupt officials and sources in the Kremlin". She said. "He mentioned a figure of £10,000 that they would pay each time to stop him broadcasting these FSB documents".[48]

Heartfield was a researcher and writer and Svetlichnaja a researcher in political theory and aesthetics, both at the University of Westminster. Their interviews with Litvinenko were source material for an article 'The Russian Security Service's Ethnic Division and the Elimination of Moscow's Chechen Business Class in the 1990s', published in Critique.[49]

Conviction in Russia

In 2002 Litvinenko was convicted in absentia in Russia and given a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence for charges of corruption.[50][51]


Litvinenko regularly told people about his theories relating to the power structures in Russia, and would bombard his contacts with information relating to his theories.[14][45][52] In a report for the Conflict Studies Research Centre, Henry Plater-Zyberk, a lecturer at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom and Russian politics expert, described Litvinenko as a one-man disinformation bureau, who was at first guided by Berezovsky but later in possible pursuit of attention for himself. Plater-Zyberk notes that Litvinenko made numerous accusations without presenting any evidence to give credence to his claims, and these claims which became increasingly outlandish were often accepted by the British media without question.[14] According to Michael Mainville, Litvinenko knew the secret to a conspiracy theory is that they are based upon an absence of proof, and that the more outlandish the claim, the harder it is to disprove.[52] This has led to some political analysts dismissing his claims as those of a fantasist.[48]

Armenian parliament shooting

Litvinenko accused the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General-Staff of the Russian armed forces of having organised the 1999 Armenian parliament shooting that killed the Prime Minister of Armenia, Vazgen Sargsyan, and seven members of parliament, ostensibly to derail the peace process which would have resolved the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but he offered no evidence to support the accusation.[14][53][54] The Russian embassy in Armenia denied any such involvement, and described Litvinenko's accusation as an attempt to harm relations between Armenia and Russia by people against the democratic reforms in Russia.[55]

Russian apartment bombings

Litvinenko alleged that agents from the FSB coordinated the 1999 Russian apartment bombings that killed more than 300 people, whereas Russian officials blamed the explosions on Islamic terrorists. This version of events was suggested earlier by David Satter.[56]

Moscow theatre hostage crisis

In a 2003 interview with the Australian SBS TV network, and aired on Dateline, Litvinenko claimed that two of the Chechen terrorists involved in the 2002 Moscow theatre siege—whom he named "Abdul the Bloody" and "Abu Bakar"—were working for the FSB, and that the agency manipulated the rebels into staging the attack.[57] Litvinenko said, "[W]hen they tried to find [Abdul the Bloody and Abu Bakar] among the dead terrorists, they weren't there. The FSB got its agents out. So the FSB agents among Chechens organized the whole thing on FSB orders, and those agents were released." This echoed similar claims made by Mikhail Trepashkin.[58] The leading role of an FSB agent, Khanpasha Terkibaev ("Abu Bakar"), was also described by Anna Politkovskaya, Ivan Rybkin and Alexander Khinshtein.[59][60][61][62] In the beginning of April 2003 Litvinenko gave "the Terkibaev file" to Sergei Yushenkov when he visited London, who in turn passed it to Anna Politkovskaya.[31] A few days later Yushenkov was assassinated. Terkibaev was later killed in Chechnya. According to Ivan Rybkin, a speaker of the Russian State Duma, "The authorities failed to keep [the FSB agent] Terkibaev out of public view, and that is why he was killed. I know how angry people were, because they knew Terkibaev had authorization from presidential administration."[63]

Beslan school hostage crisis

Alexander Litvinenko suggested in September 2004 that the Russian secret services must have been aware of the plot beforehand, and therefore that they must have themselves organised the attack as a false flag operation. He spoke in an interview before his death with Chechenpress news agency, and said that because the hostage takers had previously been in FSB custody for committing terrorist attacks, it is inconceivable that they would have been released and still been able to carry out attacks independently. He said that they would only have been freed if they were of use to the FSB, and that even in the case that they were freed without being turned into FSB assets, they would be under a strict surveillance regime that would not have allowed them to carry out the Beslan attack unnoticed.[64] Ella Kesayeva, co-chair of the group Voice of Beslan, formalised Litvinenko's argument in a November 2008 article in Novaya Gazeta, noting the large number of hostage takers who were in government custody not long before attacking the school, and coming to the same conclusion that Beslan was a false flag attack.[65]

Support of terrorism worldwide by the KGB and FSB

Litvinenko stated that "all the bloodiest terrorists of the world" were connected to FSB-KGB, including Carlos "The Jackal" Ramírez, Yassir Arafat, Saddam Hussein, Abdullah Öcalan, Wadie Haddad of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, George Hawi who led the Communist Party of Lebanon, Ezekias Papaioannou from Cyprus, Sean Garland from Ireland, and many others. He said that all of them were trained, funded, and provided with weapons, explosives and counterfeit documents to carry out terrorist attacks worldwide and that each act of terrorism made by these people was carried out according to the task and under the rigid control of the KGB of the USSR.[66] Litvinenko said that "the center of global terrorism is not in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan or the Chechen Republic. The terrorism infection creeps away worldwide from the cabinets of the Lubyanka Square and the Kremlin".[67][68]

Alleged Russia-al-Qaeda connection

In a July 2005 interview with the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita, Litvinenko alleged that Ayman al-Zawahiri, a prominent leader of al-Qaeda, was trained for half a year by the FSB in Dagestan in 1997 and called him "an old agent of the FSB".[66][69] Litvinenko said that after this training, al-Zawahiri "was transferred to Afghanistan, where he had never been before and where, following the recommendation of his Lubyanka chiefs, he at once ... penetrated the milieu of Osama bin Laden and soon became his assistant in Al Qaeda."[70] Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, a former KGB officer and writer, supported this claim and said that Litvinenko "was responsible for securing the secrecy of Al-Zawahiri's arrival in Russia; he was trained by FSB instructors in Dagestan, Northern Caucasus, in 1996–1997."[71] He said: "At that time, Litvinenko was the Head of the Subdivision for Internationally Wanted Terrorists of the First Department of the Operative-Inquiry Directorate of the FSB Anti-Terrorist Department. He was ordered to undertake the delicate mission of securing Al-Zawahiri from unintentional disclosure by the Russian police. Though Al-Zawahiri had been brought to Russia by the FSB using a false passport, it was still possible for the police to learn about his arrival and report to Moscow for verification. Such a process could disclose Al-Zawahiri as an FSB collaborator. In order to prevent this, Litvinenko visited a group of highly placed police officers to notify them in advance." According to Sergei Ignatchenko, an FSB spokesman, al-Zawahiri was arrested by Russian authorities in Dagestan in December 1996 and released in May 1997.[72]

When asked in an interview who he thought the originator of the 2005 bombings in London was, Litvinenko responded saying,[66] "You know, I have spoken about it earlier and I shall say now, that I know only one organization, which has made terrorism the main tool of solving of political problems. It is the Russian special services." He later added, "And I am sure, that there will be no prosecutions of Moslems after the event."[73]

Danish cartoon controversy

According to Litvinenko, the 2005 controversy over the publication in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of editorial cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad was orchestrated by the FSB to punish Denmark for its refusal to extradite Chechen separatists.[52]

Assassination of Anna Politkovskaya

Two weeks before his poisoning, Alexander Litvinenko accused Vladimir Putin of ordering the assassination of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and stated that a former presidential candidate, Irina Hakamada, warned Politkovskaya about threats to her life coming from the Russian president. Litvinenko advised Politkovskaya to escape from Russia immediately. Hakamada denied her involvement in passing any specific threats, and said that she warned Politkovskaya only in general terms more than a year earlier.[74] It remains unclear if Litvinenko referred to an earlier statement made by Boris Berezovsky, who claimed that Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian Deputy Prime Minister, received word from Hakamada that Putin threatened her and like-minded colleagues in person. According to Berezovsky, Putin stated that Hakamada and her colleagues "will take in the head immediately, literally, not figuratively" if they "open the mouth" about the Russian apartment bombings.[75]

Allegations concerning Romano Prodi

According to Litvinenko, the FSB deputy chief General Anatoly Trofimov said to him, "Don't go to Italy, there are many KGB agents among the politicians. Romano Prodi is our man there,"[76][77] meaning Romano Prodi, the Italian centre-left leader, former Prime Minister of Italy and former President of the European Commission. The conversation with Trofimov took place in 2000, after the Prodi-KGB scandal broke out in October 1999 due to information about Prodi provided by Vasili Mitrokhin.[78]

In April 2006, a British Member of the European Parliament for London, Gerard Batten of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), demanded an inquiry into the allegations.[76][77] According to the Brussels-based newspaper The EU Reporter on 3 April 2006, "Another high-level source, a former KGB operative in London, has confirmed the story."[79] On 26 April 2006, Batten repeated his call for a parliamentary inquiry, revealing that "former senior members of the KGB are willing to testify in such an investigation, under the right conditions." He added, "It is not acceptable that this situation is unresolved, given the importance of Russia's relations with the European Union."[80] On 22 January 2007, the BBC and ITV News released documents and video footage from February 2006, in which Litvinenko repeated his statements about Prodi.[81][82]

A report by the Conflict Studies Research Centre of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom from May 2007 noted that Trofimov was never the head of the FSB (which in any case did not oversee intelligence operations) and had never worked in the intelligence directorate of the KGB or its successor the SVR, nor had he worked in the counterintelligence department of the intelligence services, nor had he ever worked in Italy, making it difficult to understand how Trofimov would have had knowledge about such a recruitment. Henry Plater-Zyberk, the co-author of the report, suggested that Trofimov was "conveniently dead," so "could neither confirm nor deny the story," and noted Litvinenko's history of making accusations without evidence to back them up.[14]

Cooperation with Spanish authorities

Shortly before his death Litvinenko tipped off Spanish authorities on several organised crime bosses with links to Spain. During a meeting in May 2006 he allegedly provided security officials with information on the locations, roles, and activities of several "Russian" mafia figures with ties to Spain, including Zahkar Kalashov, Izguilov and Tariel Oniani.[83]

Other allegations

In his book Gang from Lubyanka, Litvinenko alleged that Vladimir Putin during his time at the FSB was personally involved in protecting the drug trafficking from Afghanistan organised by Abdul Rashid Dostum.[84] In December 2003 Russian authorities confiscated over 4000 copies of the book.[85]

Litvinenko commented on a new law that "Russia has the right to carry out preemptive strikes on militant bases abroad" and explained that these "preemptive strikes may involve anything except nuclear weapons." Litvinenko said, "You know who they mean when they say 'terrorist bases abroad'? They mean us, Zakayev and Boris and me."[31] He also said that "It was considered in our service that poison is an easier weapon than a pistol." He referred to a secret laboratory in Moscow that still continues development of deadly poisons, according to him.[86]

In an article written by Litvinenko in July 2006, and published online on Zakayev's Chechenpress website, he claimed that Vladimir Putin is a paedophile.[87] Litvinenko also claimed that Anatoly Trofimov and Artyom Borovik knew of the alleged paedophilia.[88] The claims have been called "wild"[45] and "sensational and unsubstantiated"[89] in the British media. Litvinenko made the allegation after Putin kissed a boy on his stomach while stopping to chat with some tourists during a walk in the Kremlin grounds on 28 June 2006. The incident was recalled in a webcast organised by the BBC and Yandex, in which over 11,000 people asked Putin to explain the act, to which he responded, "He seemed very independent and serious... I wanted to cuddle him like a kitten and it came out in this gesture. He seemed so nice. ... There is nothing behind it."[90]

Shortly before his death, Alexander Litvinenko alleged that Vladimir Putin had cultivated a "good relationship" with Semion Mogilevich (head of the Russia mafia) since 1993 or 1994.[91]

Poisoning and death

A bald Alexander Litvinenko at University College Hospital

On 1 November 2006, Litvinenko suddenly fell ill and was hospitalised. His illness was later attributed to poisoning with radionuclide polonium-210 after the Health Protection Agency found significant amounts of the rare and highly toxic element in his body.

In interviews, Litvinenko stated that he met with two former KGB agents early on the day he fell ill – Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoy. Though both denied any wrongdoing, a leaked US diplomatic cable revealed that Kovtun had left polonium traces in the house and car he had used in Hamburg.[92] The men also introduced Litvinenko to a tall, thin man of central Asian appearance called 'Vladislav Sokolenko' who Lugovoy said was a business partner. Lugovoy is also a former bodyguard of Russian ex-Acting Prime minister Yegor Gaidar (who also suffered from a mysterious illness in November 2006). Later, Litvinenko had lunch at Itsu, a sushi restaurant in Piccadilly in London, with an Italian acquaintance and nuclear waste expert, Mario Scaramella, to whom he made the allegations regarding Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi.[93] Scaramella, attached to the Mitrokhin Commission investigating KGB penetration of Italian politics, claimed to have information on the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya, 48, a journalist who was killed at her Moscow apartment in October 2006.

Marina Litvinenko, his widow, accused Moscow of orchestrating the murder. Though she believes the order did not come from Putin himself, she does believe it was done at the behest of the authorities, and announced that she will refuse to provide evidence to any Russian investigation out of fear that it would be misused or misrepresented.[94] On a court hearing in London in 2015 Scotland Yard lawyer concluded that "the evidence suggests that the only credible explanation is in one way or another the Russian state is involved in Litvinenko’s murder".[95]

Death and last statement

Before his death, Litvinenko said: "You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world, Mr Putin, will reverberate in your ears for the rest of your life."[96] On 22 November 2006, Litvinenko's medical staff at University College Hospital reported Litvinenko had suffered a "major setback" due to either heart failure or an overnight heart attack. He died on 23 November. The following day, Putin publicly stated: “Mr Litvinenko is, unfortunately, not Lazarus”.[96]

Scotland Yard stated that inquiries into the circumstances of how Litvinenko became ill would continue.[97]

On 24 November 2006, a posthumous statement was released, in which Litvinenko named Putin as the man behind his poisoning.[98] Litvinenko's friend Alex Goldfarb, who was also the chairman of Boris Berezovsky's Civil Liberties Fund, claimed Litvinenko had dictated it to him three days earlier. Andrei Nekrasov said his friend Litvinenko and Litvinenko's lawyer had composed the statement in Russian on 21 November and translated it to English.[99]

Litvinenko's grave at Highgate Cemetery in 2007.

Putin disputed the authenticity of this note while attending a Russia-EU summit in Helsinki and claimed it was being used for political purposes.[100] Goldfarb later stated that Litvinenko, on his deathbed, had instructed him to write a note "in good English" in which Putin was to be accused of his poisoning. Goldfarb also stated that he read the note to Litvinenko in English and Russian and Litvinenko agreed "with every word of it" and signed it.[98]

Litvinenko's grave in 2014.

His autopsy took place on 1 December at the Royal London Hospital's institute of pathology. It was attended by three physicians, including one chosen by the family and one from the Foreign Office.[101] Litvinenko was buried at Highgate Cemetery (West side) in north London on 7 December.[102] The police are treating his death as murder, although the London coroner's inquest is yet to be completed.[103][104] On 25 November, two days after Litvinenko's death, an article attributed to him was published by The Mail on Sunday entitled "Why I believe Putin wanted me dead".[105]

In an interview with the BBC broadcast on 16 December 2006, Yuri Shvets said that Litvinenko had created a 'due diligence' report investigating the activities of an unnamed senior Kremlin official on behalf of a British company looking to invest "dozens of millions of dollars" in a project in Russia, and that the dossier contained damaging information about the senior Kremlin official. He said he was interviewed about his allegations by Scotland Yard detectives investigating Litvinenko's murder.[106] British media reported that the poisoning and consequent death of Litvinenko was not widely covered in the Russian news media.[107]

Conversion to Islam

Litvinenko converted to Islam in Britain after having become friends with exiled Chechen separatist leaders.[108]

During her remarks at the 2015 inquest into her husband's death, Marina Litvinenko testified that her husband had converted to Islam before his death.[109] Mrs. Litvinenko also testified that Litvinenko told his father that he had converted to Islam, to which his father responded, "It doesn't matter. At least you're not a communist."[110]

On 7 December 2006, Litvinenko was buried at Highgate Cemetery with Muslim rites, including a Muslim prayer being said by an imam invited by Akhmed Zakayev, contrary to his wife's wishes of a non-denominational service at the grave.[108][111]

The funeral ceremony was followed by a private memorial at which the ensemble Tonus Peregrinus sang sacred music by Russian composers Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninov, Victor Kalinnikov, and three works by British composer Antony Pitts.[112][113][114]

Theories and investigations into death

UK criminal investigation

On 20 January 2007 British police announced that they had "identified the man they believe poisoned Alexander Litvinenko. The suspected killer was captured on cameras at Heathrow as he flew into Britain to carry out the murder."[115] The man in question was introduced to Litvinenko as "Vladislav".

As of 26 January 2007, British officials said police had solved the murder of Litvinenko. They discovered "a 'hot' teapot at London's Millennium Hotel with an off-the-charts reading for polonium-210, the radioactive material used in the killing." In addition, a senior official said investigators had concluded the murder of Litvinenko was "a 'state-sponsored' assassination orchestrated by Russian security services." The police want to charge former Russian spy Andrei Lugovoy, who met Litvinenko on 1 November 2006, the day officials believe the lethal dose of polonium-210 was administered.[116]

On the same day, The Guardian reported that the British government was preparing an extradition request asking that Andrei Lugovoy be returned to the UK to stand trial for Litvinenko's murder.[117] On 22 May 2007 the Crown Prosecution Service called for the extradition of Russian citizen Andrei Lugovoy to the UK on charges of murder.[118] Lugovoy dismissed the claims against him as "politically motivated" and said he did not kill Litvinenko.[119]

A British police investigation resulted in several suspects for the murder, but in May 2007, the British Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, announced that his government would seek to extradite Andrei Lugovoy, the chief suspect in the case, from Russia.[120] On 28 May 2007, the British Foreign Office officially submitted a request to the Government of Russia for the extradition of Lugovoy to face criminal charges in the UK.[121]

On 2 October 2011, The Sunday Times published an article wherein the chief prosecutor who investigated the murder of Litvinenko, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, publicly spoke of his suspicion that the murder was a "state directed execution" carried out by Russia. Until that time, British public officials had stopped short of directly accusing Russia of involvement in the poisoning. "It had all the hallmarks of a state directed execution, committed on the streets of London by a foreign government," Macdonald added.[122]

In January 2015, it was reported in the UK media that the National Security Agency had intercepted communications between Russian government agents in Moscow and those who carried out what was called a "state execution" in London: the recorded conversations allegedly proved that the Russian government was involved in Litvinenko's murder, and suggested that the motive was Litvinenko's revelations about Vladimir Putin's links with the criminal underworld.[123] On 21 January 2016 the Ministry of Defence published The Litvinenko Inquiry: Report into Litvinenko's death.[124]

Russian criminal investigation

Many publications in Russian media suggested that the death of Alexander Litvinenko was connected to Boris Berezovsky.[125][126] Former FSB chief Nikolay Kovalyov, for whom Litvinenko worked, said that the incident "looks like the hand of Boris Berezovsky. I am sure that no kind of intelligence services participated."[127] This involvement of Berezovsky was alleged by numerous Russian television shows. Kremlin supporters saw it as a conspiracy to smear the Russian government's reputation by engineering a spectacular murder of a Russian dissident abroad.[128]

After Litvinenko's death, traces of polonium-210 were found in an office of Berezovsky.[129] Litvinenko had visited Berezovsky's office as well as many other places in the hours after his poisoning.[130] The British Health Protection Agency made extensive efforts to ensure that locations Litvinenko visited and anyone who had contact with Litvinenko after his poisoning, were not at risk.[131]

Russian prosecutors were not allowed to investigate the office.[132] Russian authorities have also been unable to question Berezovsky. The Foreign Ministry complained that Britain was obstructing its attempt to send prosecutors to London to interview more than 100 people, including Berezovsky.[133]

On 5 July 2007, Russia officially declined to extradite Lugovoy, citing Article 61 of the Constitution of Russia that prohibits extradition of citizens. Russia has said that they could take on the case themselves if Britain provided evidence against Lugovoy but Britain has not handed over any evidence. The head of the investigating committee at the General Prosecutor's Office said Russia has not yet received any evidence from Britain on Lugovoy. "We have not received any evidence from London of Lugovoy's guilt, and those documents we have are full of blank spaces and contradictions.[134] However the British ambassador to Russia, Anne Pringle, claimed that London has already submitted sufficient evidence to extradite him to Britain.[135]

Judicial inquiries

Inquest in London

On 13 October 2011, Dr. Andrew Reed, the Coroner of St. Pancras, announced that he would hold an inquest into Litvinenko's death, which would include the examination of all existing theories of the murder, including possible complicity of the Russian government.[136] The inquest, held by Sir Robert Owen, a High Court judge acting as the coroner, originally scheduled to start on 1 May 2013, was subject to a series of pre-hearings: firstly, the coroner agreed that a group representing Russian state prosecutors could be accepted as a party to the inquest process; secondly, the British Government submitted a Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate. Under Public Interest Immunity (PII) claims, the information at the disposal of the UK government relating to Russian state involvement, as well as how much British intelligence services could have done to prevent the death, would be excluded from the inquest.[137]

On 12 July 2013, Sir Robert, who had previously agreed to exclude certain material from the inquest on the grounds its disclosure could be damaging to national security, announced that the British Government refused the request he had made earlier in June to replace the inquest with a public inquiry, which would have powers to consider secret evidence.[9][138] After the hearing, Alex Goldfarb said: "There's some sort of collusion behind the scenes with Her Majesty's government and the Kremlin to obstruct justice"; Elena Tsirlina, Mrs Litvinenko's solicitor, concurred with him.[9][138]

On 22 July 2014, the UK Home Secretary Theresa May, who had previously ruled out an inquiry on the grounds it might damage the country’s relations with Moscow,[10] announced a public inquiry into Litvinenko's death. The inquiry was chaired by Sir Robert Owen who was the Coroner in the inquest into Litvinenko’s death; its remit stipulated that "the inquiry will not address the question of whether the UK authorities could or should have taken steps which would have prevented the death".[139][140] The inquiry started on 27 January 2015.[10] New evidence emerged at first hearings held at the end of January 2015.[43] The last day of hearings was on 31 July 2015.[141]

The inquiry report was released on 21 January 2016. The report found that Litvinenko was killed by two Russian agents, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun and that there was a “strong probability” they were acting on behalf of the Russian FSB secret service.[142] Paragraph 10.6 of the report stated: "The FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev and also by President Putin."[143]

The Report outlined five possible motives for the murder: a belief Litvinenko had betrayed the FSB through public disclosures about its work; a belief that he was working for British intelligence; because he was a prominent associate of leading opponents of Mr Putin and his regime, including Mr Boris Berezovsky and Akhmed Zakayev; because his claims about the FSB were “areas of particular sensitivity to the Putin administration”, including a plot to murder dissident Boris Berezovsky; and because there was “undoubtedly a personal dimension to the antagonism" between Litvinenko and Putin, culminating in his allegation that Putin was a paedophile.[96]

On the release of the report, British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned Putin for presiding over “state sponsored murder”. British Labour MP Ian Austin said: “Putin is an unreconstructed KGB thug and gangster who murders his opponents in Russia and, as we know, on the streets of London - and nothing announced today is going to make the blindest bit of difference.” The Kremlin dismissed the Inquiry as “a joke” and "whitewash".[96]

The same day, British Home Secretary Theresa May announced that assets belonging to both Lugovoi and Kovtun would be immediately frozen and that the Metropolitan Police were seeking their extradition.[144] The Russian Ambassador was also summoned by the British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond and demands were made that Russia cooperate with the investigation into Mr Litvinenko's murder with Foreign Office minister David Liddington asserting that Russia had demonstrated “a flagrant disregard for UK law, international law and standards of conduct, and the safety of UK citizens”[145][146][147] However, the government's response to the inquiry's results has been described by The Economist as consisting of "tough talk and little action".[148]

Full Report of the Litvinenko Inquiry.

Litvinenko vs. the Russian Federation in Strasbourg

In May 2007 Marina Litvinenko registered a complaint against the Russian Federation in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg accusing the Russian state of violating her husband's right to life, and failing to conduct a full investigation.[149][150]

In popular culture


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His books

Books and films about him

External links

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