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Telegraph: 'Give me justice, Dmitry Medvedev,' says Alexander Litvinenko's widow

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  • Norbert Strade
    Telegraph Give me justice, Dmitry Medvedev, says Alexander Litvinenko s widow By David Harrison 08/03/2008 Marina Litvinenko suddenly becomes animated. She
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 9, 2008

      'Give me justice, Dmitry Medvedev,' says Alexander Litvinenko's widow

      By David Harrison

      Marina Litvinenko suddenly becomes animated. She leans forward in her
      chair, her grey-blue eyes twinkling. "He has a chance to change Russia,
      to move away from the Putin regime and show the world, especially
      Britain, that Russia wants to be a normal country," she says.

      The 45-year-old widow of Alexander Litvinenko, the exiled former Russian
      spy murdered in London, is talking about the Russian president-elect,
      Dmitry Medvedev, who last week won an election widely seen as neither
      free nor fair but one which ensures that on May 7 he will succeed his
      mentor, Vladimir Putin.

      Mrs Litvinenko believes that Mr Medvedev, a 42-year-old lawyer, can show
      the world that Russia is becoming "normal" by agreeing to the British
      request to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB officer, to face trial
      for her husband's murder.

      Scotland Yard says it has evidence that Mr Lugovoi poisoned her husband,
      who was a fierce critic of the Kremlin, with radioactive polonium-210 at
      the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair in 2006. Mr Lugovoi denies any
      involvement and says Mr Litvinenko tried to recruit him for MI6, a claim
      his widow rejects as "nonsense".

      President Putin's refusal to extradite Mr Lugovoi has led to a dramatic
      deterioration in relations between London and Moscow, including
      tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats and the closure of two British
      Council offices in Russia. Mrs Litvinenko says that, by reversing that
      stance, Mr Medvedev would show the world that Russia respects the rule
      of law.

      "He is not a former KGB member [Mr Putin is] and he likes to give the
      impression he is a liberal with his taste for 1970s music and calls for
      an independent judiciary and a free media," she said. "So now he has the
      chance to prove it and take Russia in a new direction. If he does, he
      will win the admiration of many countries and I will get justice for my

      She was talking at a secret location in London. Mrs Litvinenko - and the
      police - fear she could be the next target for her husband's killers, so
      she has to be careful about where she goes and whom she meets. She lives
      at a safe house in London and although she neither has nor wants 24-hour
      bodyguards, police are never far away.

      She divides her time between caring for her son Anatoly, 13, and
      campaigning for Mr Lugovoi's extradition. The campaign has taken her all
      over the world and she says she has been heartened by the support she
      has received.

      She has co-written a book, Death of a Dissident, published in 16
      languages and 20 countries, with Alex Goldfarb, a family friend; made a
      documentary film, Rebellion: The Litvinenko Case, and founded the
      Litvinenko Justice Foundation with Mr Goldfarb and Boris Berezovsky, the
      billionaire Russian exile and friend of her late husband.

      But most important to her is that Anatoly, who became severely withdrawn
      after his father's death, is now developing into a confident young man.
      "When his father's story came on the television he didn't want to
      watch," she said. "His school really helped by telling pupils and
      teachers not to ask him about it. But now he can talk about his father.
      He knows what he stood for and why I am campaigning.

      "He doesn't talk about his father's death but he is now comfortable
      talking about him and sharing memories. Sometimes he will take out
      photographs of him and reminisce about a day out or another family time
      together. He says he thinks he is starting to look like him and friends
      say he has started to take on some of his mannerisms."

      Mrs Litvinenko is proud that her son is doing well at school, and
      showing an aptitude for languages, including Russian, English, French
      and Spanish. "I don't know what he wants to do," she said. "He has
      talked about designing cars and computer programs. We will see. It's
      important to keep his life as normal as possible."

      Today, Mrs Litvinenko is confident and impassioned by her quest for
      justice, almost unrecognisable as the shy wife who was reluctant to talk
      to the media when her husband, whom she calls Sasha, lay dying in a
      London hospital, victim of a murder that shocked, fascinated and
      terrified the world. "I had always been the wife in the background,
      behind Sasha. I did not want to be the person in front," she said. "But
      I have to do it, for Sasha, for Anatoly and for justice."

      Mr Medvedev has appointed Mr Putin as his prime minister. They have been
      close for 16 years, with Mr Putin always in control. Mr Medvedev is even
      said to have had voice lessons to make himself sound like his mentor.

      Politically he will be under pressure to follow Mr Putin's way, and his
      softer rhetoric may be a ploy to reassure foreign investors worried by
      the former president's belligerent anti-Westernism. After talks
      yesterday in Moscow with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, Mr Putin
      spoke of relations between Russia and the West, warning: "I do not think
      our partners will have it easier with Medvedev."

      Most Russians, mindful of the chaos after the Soviet Union's collapse,
      seem content to sacrifice democracy for the relative stability and
      prosperity they have enjoyed under Mr Putin.

      Mrs Litvinenko says Britain must keep striving for Mr Lugovoi's
      extradition. Last week Gordon Brown said he wanted a "fresh start" with
      Russia under the new president - a comment interpreted by some as
      meaning that he wants to move on from the murder investigation and the
      row over the British Council. Whitehall sources indicated Britain would
      still press for the extradition, but there are fears that the issue
      could lose its urgency.

      "I hope that by 'fresh start' Mr Brown means he is inviting Medvedev to
      break with Putin's legacy, and start co-operating with Britain on the
      investigation," said Mrs Litvinenko. "Britain and all the other EU
      countries must not be weak with Moscow just because they want Russia's
      gas and oil. Russia will exploit any sign of weakness."

      She insists that if Moscow's attitude towards the extradition has not
      changed by the first anniversary of the request on May 22, she will
      campaign for a full inquest, like that being held into the death of
      Diana, Princess of Wales. "Even if the Russians don't come, we will
      still hear all the evidence from the British police," she said.

      An inquest would also help to provide more information on where the
      killers obtained the polonium-210, she believes. "The US Congress raised
      this issue in a recent resolution and we are seeking to obtain data on
      polonium through the US Freedom of Information Act." Mrs Litvinenko is
      also prepared to take her campaign to the European Court in Strasbourg.

      "I have two overwhelming priorities," she said. "To get justice for
      Sasha and to make sure that his case is not forgotten or short-changed."

      She said her husband asked her, shortly before he died, to "tell the
      press the truth about what happened to me". His widow is doing him proud.

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