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Who killed Litvinenko?

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com Who killed Litvinenko? By Cahal Milmo
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 5, 2006
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      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist

      Who killed Litvinenko?
      By Cahal Milmo
      Published: 25 November 2006

      Alexander Litvinenko was a man who could be taught little about the
      seamy side of modern Russia. A KGB agent for 18 years, he occupied a
      world where intrigue, betrayal and ruthless trickery were the tools
      of working life.

      But even a man whose job was to fight organised crime and counter
      subversion in the name of the Kremlin would have been surprised at
      an event as mired in low chicanery, high drama and cold-blooded
      cunning as his own passing. The spy novel saga of the life and death
      of the 43-year-old secret agent turned vehement critic of Vladimir
      Putin entered its most extraordinary phase yesterday when it was
      revealed that he died from exposure to a radioactive poison.

      Last night, the Government was dealing with a public health alert
      and diplomatic crisis after traces of polonium 210, a by-product of
      uranium, were found at Mr Litvinenko's home as well as a sushi
      restaurant and London hotel he visited on 1 November.

      The Health Protection Agency (HPA) confirmed that traces of the
      heavy metal, which is lethal if ingested in tiny quantities, were
      found in Mr Litvinenko's urine.

      Until he died from heart failure on Thursday night, doctors had
      failed to pinpoint the cause of symptoms that reduced a man who ran
      five miles every day to a "ghost" with a crippled immune system and
      a useless liver. A post-mortem will not be carried out until it is
      deemed safe for hospital staff to do so.

      Scotland Yard, whose anti-terrorist branch is leading the
      investigation, said it had closed the Itsu sushi restaurant and part
      of the hotel in Mayfair after HPA experts found traces of the
      chemical element polonium.

      In a sign of the potential damage to relations between London and
      Moscow, the Foreign Office said it had asked the Russian government
      to provide " any information" that would help Scotland Yard's
      investigations. A spokesman said: "We've obviously raised it and it
      is a serious matter."

      It is believed that Mr Litvinenko somehow ingested a small amount of
      polonium 210 on or around 1 November. Although harmless to the outer
      skin, the heavy metal, in quantities no larger than a pinch of salt,
      destroys internal organs by causing severe radiation poisoning.

      The HPA described the risk of contamination to others who had come
      into contact with Mr Litvinenko on 1 November and subsequently
      as "minimal" .

      But the agency confirmed it was drawing up lists of staff at the two
      London hospitals where the Russian, who recently gained British
      citizenship, was treated and "tens" of staff would have to undergo
      screening for exposure to radioactivity. Staff at the sushi
      restaurant would also be assessed, the agency said.

      Professor Pat Troop, chief executive of the HPA, said: "What we know
      is that this man had a high dose of radiation and our responsibility
      is to say: 'Has that caused a risk to others?'

      "For somebody to have this level of radiation they would have to
      have eaten it, inhaled it or taken it in through a wound. It is not
      yet clear how this entered his body."

      The answers to that question lie in the events of 1 November and Mr
      Litvinenko's 18-year career in the KGB and its successor, the FSB.
      It brought Mr Litvinenko into contact or opposition with some of the
      most powerful figures in Russia during the break-up of the Soviet
      Union and the emergence of Mr Putin as a political leader admired
      and feared in equal measure.

      It ended after encounters with a set of characters who could have
      been drawn from a James Bond film, ranging from an Italian academic
      and KGB expert once targeted by the mafia to a football-mad
      businessman who once guarded the Russian Prime Minister. But it was
      Mr Putin whom Mr Litvinenko chose to blame for his demise. Aware
      that the substance in his body was killing him, the former spy,
      along with his supporters, had the presence of mind to dictate a
      statement four days ago in which he made clear who he blamed for his

      In a statement released yesterday, Mr Litvinenko wrote: "As I lie
      here, I can distinctly hear the beating wings of the angel of death.
      I may be able to give him the slip, but I have to say my legs do not
      run as fast as I would like."

      He continued: "You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and
      ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed. You may succeed
      in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world
      will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life."

      The response of the Russian President, attending a European Union
      summit in Finland, was blunt: "There is no ground for speculation of
      this kind. A death of a man is always a tragedy and I deplore this
      and send my condolences to the family."

      Last night, legislators in Moscow suggested Mr Litvinenko's death
      was part of a plot against Russia. "The death of Litvinenko ­ for
      Russia, for the security services ­ means nothing," Valery Dyatlenko,
      a former head of the FSB, said on state-run Channel One television,
      contending that neither the Kremlin nor Russia's intelligence
      agencies would have had reason to kill him.

      Police are now investigating the contacts which Mr Litvinenko made
      in London as he established a reputation as a strident critic of the
      Kremlin, in particular its policy in Chechnya.

      Known as Sasha to his friends, he had come to Britain in 2000 after
      turning whistleblower on the FSB, claiming he had been ordered to
      assassinate the virulently anti-Putin oligarch ­ and his subsequent
      patron ­ Boris Berezovsky. He was quickly submerged into Berezovsky's
      circle of influential emigrés.

      The exiled agent settled in Muswell Hill, a respectable corner of
      north London, in a large modern house owned by Mr Berezovsky.
      Shortly afterwards he was joined by his wife, Marina, 41, and their
      12-year-old son, Anatole. Across the road lived Akhmed Zakayev, the
      foreign minister of the exiled Chechen government.

      All this came to an abrupt halt on 1 November. Mr Litivinenko held
      two meetings on that Wednesday. It was the sixth anniversary of his
      arrival in Britain as a political refugee, having been an agent in
      the FSB unit tasked with countering organised crime gangs in the

      The first, at 10am, was at the Millennium Mayfair Hotel in central
      London with Sergei Lugovoy, a former KGB bodyguard and businessman
      who runs a security company in Moscow. Mr Lugovoy said he had been
      in London to watch a football match between Arsenal and CSKA Moscow.
      Also at the meeting were two other people unknown to Mr Litvinenko ­
      Dmitry Kovtun, the business partner of Mr Lugovoy, and another
      friend and partner named as Vyacheslav Sokolenko. Friends of Mr
      Litvinenko insist that he drank tea during the meeting.

      Mr Lugovoy, former bodyguard to a Russian Prime Minister, Yegor
      Gaidar, who claimed to have renewed his 10-year relationship with Mr
      Litvinenko only recently, said last night that his business contact
      had taken no food or drink.

      He said they had held a "very constructive" meeting, but Mr
      Litvinenko had cancelled a second breakfast meeting the next day
      after falling ill. The businessman denied any involvement in the
      death. He said: " I'm surprised by how hysterically some are trying
      to tie me to this." By 3pm, Mr Litvinenko had moved from Mayfair to
      the elegant façades of Piccadilly, where he met Mario Scaramella,
      another long-standing contact who had called him out of the blue
      saying he wanted to bring forward a meeting planned for 10 November
      to discuss important documents. The Italian examining magistrate
      who, among his many job descriptions, includes the titles of
      environmental campaigner and law professor, told Mr Litvinenko that
      he had received a death threat aimed at both of them. They met for
      35 minutes in the basement of a branch of Itsu, a sushi restaurant
      chain. Mr Scaramella said last week that, while he himself drank
      only water, Mr Litvinenko bought food and drink from a chiller

      The documents they discussed, seen by The Independent, accused both
      men of being part of a conspiracy to besmirch the name of the FSB
      and there was a " necessity to use force" to silence them. The
      papers also purported to name a retired KGB agent who was
      responsible for planning the murder of the dissident journalist Anna
      Politkovskaya at her Moscow apartment in October.

      Mr Litvinenko, a friend of the reporter, had been very public ­
      perhaps dangerously so ­ about whom he believed to have been
      responsible for the murder. Thirteen days earlier he had stood up in
      front of an audience journalists and campaigners at London's
      Frontline Club and accused Mr Putin of being involved.

      The motivation of those who may have somehow slipped polonium 210
      into Mr Litvinenko's food or drink remains unknown. Theories abound,
      from an officially sanctioned "hit" by the FSB against a man seen as
      a traitor in Moscow, to an attempt to besmirch Mr Putin and his
      administration by rogue opponents, or a macabre suicide by Mr
      Litvinenko himself. The last scenario was described by one friend
      last night as "utter rubbish".

      But what happened to the Russian agent following those meetings on 1
      November is not in dispute ­ a ghastly slide by a former pentathlete
      from rude health into a man with the appearance and demeanour of a
      cancer patient.

      Initially, Mr Litvinenko spent 10 days at Barnet Hospital in north
      London. Staff put his extreme vomiting down to a violent stomach bug
      before moving him to a cancer ward when his white blood cell count
      dropped to zero. Poisoning was only investigated when he was
      transferred to University College London Hospital on 17 November and
      toxicology tests revealed small traces of thallium, known as
      the "secret agent's poison" ­ it is odourless, tasteless and lethal
      in small quantities.

      What had thus far been only reported on a single pro-Chechen website
      suddenly became worldwide news. Alex Goldfarb, the eloquent human
      rights campaigner who had arranged Mr Litvinenko's escape from
      Moscow in 2000, emerged as the official spokesman for his friend.

      Behind the scenes, the exiled oligarch and arch-critic of Mr Putin,
      Boris Berezovsky, called in his PR agency, Bell Pottinger, to handle
      media inquiries. It was Bell Pottinger which distributed what will
      become the defining image of Alexander Litvinenko ­ a photograph of
      his shrunken and yellowed features taken in his hospital bed with
      wires to a bank of medical machines trailing from his chest.

      Such pictures of high political drama were a long way from the
      provincial backwater of Nalchik, the town in the far south of
      Russian where Mr Litvinenko was born in 1963, the son of a doctor.
      Described as "bright and principled", a 20-year-old Alexander joined
      the KGB in 1983 and rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant-
      colonel in the section dealing with organised crime.

      It is understood that he had special responsibility for countering
      attempts by the Russian mafia to infiltrate the security services.
      In 1998, he declared his failure at this task. At a press conference
      he accused the FSB, then headed by Mr Putin, of ordering him to
      assassinate Mr Berezovsky. In turn charged with corruption by
      Moscow, Mr Litvinenko fled to London and continued his onslaught
      with a book, The FSB Blows Up Russia, in which he accused his former
      employers of murdering 300 people in 1999 by demolishing apartment
      blocks with explosives and blaming the attacks on Chechen rebels.

      A series of further allegations were made, some of which ­ such as
      the claim that the Kremlin had ordered the Beslan massacre ­ were
      seen as undermining his credibility.

      Amid reports of a tape recording which supposedly implicates senior
      Kremlin figures in a sex scandal, it is clear that Mr Litvinenko
      made enough enemies in enough places who could now make it on to the
      list of suspects for what the Yard was last night calling
      his "unexplained death".

      But, yesterday, it fell to his father, Walter, to summarise a life
      and death far out of the ordinary. Dressed in a leather jacket and
      an orange scarf, Mr Litvinenko choked back tears and anger as he
      spoke to reporters outside University College London Hospital. He
      said: "My son died yesterday and he was killed by a little, tiny
      nuclear bomb.

      "He faced his last hours with dignity. He was very courageous when
      he met death and I am proud of my son."

      The leading players in an espionage drama

      Vladimir Putin

      The Russian president was accused by Mr Litvinenko of sanctioning
      his murder. The Kremlin has rejected the claims, but the death of
      the former agent will add to the perception that the FSB security
      service is running an assassination policy.

      Mario Scaramella

      The Italian academic and KGB expert met Mr Litvinenko at a sushi
      restaurant on the day he fell ill. There is no suggestion that Mr
      Scaramella was involved in the poisoning. He said he had met his
      friend to discuss a death threat aimed at them.

      Andrei Lugovoy

      The Moscow-based businessman and former KGB bodyguard held a meeting
      with Mr Litvinenko at a hotel on 1 November. Mr Lugovoy had tea with
      Mr Litvinenko and two other men. Mr Lugovoy said the meeting had
      been to discuss business and he had been in London to see a football

      Boris Berezovsky

      The exiled Russian oligarch had become an ally of Mr Litvinenko. Mr
      Berezovsky, a critic of Mr Putin, is thought to own the house in
      north London where Mr Litvinenko was living and financed his book,
      which levelled corruption and murder allegations against the FSB and

      Akhmed Zakayev

      The former actor and foreign minister of the Chechen government in
      exile was a visitor to Mr Litvinenko's bedside. The two men were
      neighbours. He accused the Kremlin of exporting "gangster politics"
      to London.

      Lord Tim Bell

      Bell Pottinger Communications, of which Lord Bell is chairman,
      includes Mr Berezovsky among its clients. The company handled media
      calls about Mr Litvinenko and arranged for the distribution of
      photographs taken of him in hospital.

      Alex Goldfarb

      The biochemist is director of a human rights group set up by Mr
      Berezovsky in 2000. Mr Goldfarb has put forward the allegation that
      the Kremlin is responsible for Mr Litvinenko's death.

      John Henry

      The leading toxicologist claimed that thallium was to blame for Mr
      Litvinenko's condition. But the hospital said he had made his
      remarks without seeing test results. The professor said he has
      withdrawn from the case.

      Countdown to tragedy

      7 October

      Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya is shot dead in Moscow.
      Litvinenko begins to investigate her murder.

      1 November

      Litvinenko meets former KGB officer at Millennium Hotel, London,
      then meets Italian academic Mario Scaramella at Itsu sushi bar in
      Leicester Square. Later admitted to Barnet General hospital.

      17 November

      His condition worsens and he is transferred to University College
      London Hospital.

      19 November

      Reports emerge that he has been poisoned with thallium.

      20 November

      Litvinenko moved to intensive care. Scotland Yard say they are
      treating it as a suspected deliberate poisoning. Kremlin dismisses
      allegations of involvement.

      22 November

      As his condition worsens, doctors rule out thallium and radiation

      23 November

      After suffering a heart-attack overnight, doctors say he is
      critically ill. Later that night, statement is issued saying he is

      24 November

      It emerges that radioactive material is found at hotel and
      restaurant which Litvinenko visited. His family release statement
      from former spy in which he tells Vladimir Putin "may god forgive
      you for what you have done".


      Was he sacrificed to embarrass Putin?
      By Caroline Davies
      Last Updated: 28/11/2006

      Conspiracy theories have abounded since the death of Alexander
      Litvinenko as detectives struggle to make headway in this
      unprecedented case. Some point to President Putin and the Kremlin,
      others to Litvinenko's dissident allies, some even suggest suicide
      or, perhaps, an accident. Here are some of the most popular theories.

      Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Berezovsky

      1. It was Putin

      Litvinenko, in his death-bed statement, pointed his finger at
      President Vladimir Putin, former member of the FSB, the Russian
      security service. Kremlin officials deny any involvement. Russia's
      media pour scorn on the theory that Putin ordered Litvinenko's
      elimination. He was simply too unimportant, a small-time fantasist
      it was easier to put up with than to bump off, they say.

      The idea Putin would order his death – particularly this drawn-out,
      agonising death guaranteed to attract world-wide attention – and
      risk an international furore is seen as preposterous. Such a slow
      and public assassination could only play into the hands of those who
      wished to compromise Russia in the world arena.

      2. Putin's enemies

      advertisementThe most popular theory in Moscow is that Litvinenko
      was "sacrificed" in order to embarrass Putin. This is the second
      time Putin has been embarrassed by an opponent's death just before a
      major international meeting.

      The death of outspoken journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot
      outside her Moscow apartment block, overshadowed Putin's German
      visit. Litvinenko's public death-bed agonies came just before a
      major summit meeting between Russia and the EU in Finland.

      Putin himself powered this view following Politkovskaya's death,
      saying in a statement then: "We have information, and it is
      reliable, that many people who are hiding from Russian justice have
      long had the idea of sacrificing someone in order to create a wave
      of anti-Russian sentiment".

      3. Putin's enemies outside

      Boris Berezovsky has not escaped suspicion in Russia's papers. An
      academic turned businessman who made a fortune after the fall of
      communism, he was an ally of Putin until they fell out. He fled to
      Britain from where he has battled extradition. Opposed to Putin's
      regime, he has helped other exiles and was giving Litvinenko
      financial support in Britain.

      Litvinenko, when with the FSB, once saved Berezovsky's life by
      warning him of an assassination attempt and the two became friends.
      Those close to both men believe it is ludicrous to suspect
      Berezovsky of harming the man who saved him from a possible
      assassination attempt.

      "Boris owes his life to Litvinenko and would never do anything to
      harm him," Oleg Gordievsky, friend and KGB defector is reported as

      4. Putin's enemies inside

      Of the main factions within the Kremlin, one is a group of
      nationalistic and hardline elements in the military and security
      forces dubbed the "siloviki". Some of them are said to believe Putin
      is dangerous for Russia because the country is collapsing and Russia
      is losing control of parts of its territory like the Caucasus.
      Embarrassing Putin could help as they battle for control with
      Putin's term due to end in 2008, say some.

      5. Putin's friends

      "Dignity and Honour" are said to be a group of ex-KGB spies waging
      their own war on dissidents trying to embarrass Putin.

      One theory is he was killed by a veteran of Russia's Spetsnaz
      special forces - dubbed "Igor the Poisoner" by one paper - and named
      in a hitlist passed to Litvinenko by Italian academic Mario
      Scaramella on the day he was poisoned, and then to the police. Apart
      from Litvinenko, the list is said to include Berezovsky,
      Politkovskaya and Scaramella.

      6. Enemies beyond

      Litvenenko was known to have plenty of enemies beyond the Kremlin.
      In the late 1990s, he had accused two of his bosses at the FSB of
      planning assassinations.

      He also wrote a book claim the FSB were behind the blowing-up of
      several apartment blocks in Moscow, then blaming it on Chechneya. A
      rogue enemy from his security service past, perhaps? Or was he the
      victim of a mafia plot from enemies made whilst working for the FSB?

      7. Suicide

      Perhaps the most desperate theory, but, one still touted in Moscow
      by those who would depict Litvinenko as a man who so detested Putin
      he was willing to end his life in this appalling way in a last
      attempt to discredit him.

      8. An accident

      There has long been a black-market trade in radioactive materials
      being stolen from poorly – protected Russian nuclear sites. The
      International Atomic Energy Agency estimates about 40kg of weapons-
      usable uranium and plutonium were stolen from facilities in the
      former Soviet Union between 1991 and 2002.

      Did Litvinenko somehow come into contact with smuggled radioactive
      material? According to one expert, pure polonium 210 cannot be
      contained in ordinary glassware and could not be administered in
      liquid form as the drink would bubble and the heat would be too
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