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