Described as an act of nuclear terrorism on the streets of London, an outspoken enemy of Russian President Vladimir Putin was poisoned by former KGB agents in possession of an extremely rare radioactive isotope. After assigning a public inquiry into the assassination, the British government announced Thursday that Putin was the most likely suspect who had both the motive and the means to orchestrate Alexander Litvinenko’s agonizing death from radiation sickness.
Investigating the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko met with former KGB officers at the Millennium Hotel in London on November 1, 2006. Unbeknownst to Litvinenko, former KGB officers Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun had contaminated his teacup with polonium-210, an extremely rare radioactive isotope made in nuclear reactors. After fleeing to Russia and receiving treatment for radiation poisoning, Kovtun and Lugovoi denied murdering Litvinenko even though the radiation trail began and ended with them.
In 1988, Litvinenko entered the KGB as a counter-intelligence officer. When the KGB disbanded and later reformed into the FSB, he was assigned to investigating organized crime in Moscow. After uncovering rampant police corruption tied to the Russian mafia and international drug trafficking, Litvinenko suspiciously received orders to assassinate an oligarch named Boris Berezovsky.
Instead of killing their target, Litvinenko and his team warned Berezovsky of the plot against him. After complaining to the Prosecutor-General, Litvinenko and his men received suspensions from the FSB. In 1998, Litvinenko and his fellow officers held a press conference revealing several FSB plots against perceived political opponents.
The FSB fired Litvinenko and arrested him for exceeding his authority. Acquitted in 1999, he was re-arrested again until the charges were dismissed in 2000. Facing a third arrest, Litvinenko secretly fled his homeland and eventually ended up with his wife in London seeking political asylum.
In 2001, Litvinenko wrote Blowing Up Russia and accused the FSB of carrying out the Russian apartment bombings that left roughly 300 dead, even though Putin publicly blamed Chechen rebels for the attacks. In his book, Litvinenko named the FSB officers responsible for the bombings and detailed how the bombs were planted to justify a second war with Chechnya. He also wrote that Vladimir Putin was a pedophile who had covered up drug trafficking and rare metal smuggling before his promotion to Director of the FSB.
Violently ill and diagnosed with radiation poisoning, Litvinenko revealed the names of his killers: Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, the former KGB officers who had tea with him; and Vladimir Putin, the man who had ordered his execution.
After ordering a public inquiry into the assassination of Litvinenko, the British government accused Putin on Thursday of ordering the former KGB agents to carry out the sadistic murder. While freezing Lugovoi and Kovtun’s assets, British Home Secretary Teresa May announced that the Metropolitan Police were seeking their extradition. Putin has repeatedly refused to extradite the murder suspects, while Lugovoi has become a member of the State Duma.
After conducting the inquiry, Sir Robert Owen wrote, “I have concluded the FSB operation to kill Mr. Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr. [Nikolai] Patrushev, then head of the FSB, and also by President Putin.”
While attempting to expand Russia’s influence into Syria and the Ukraine, Putin has also been accused of ordering the assassinations of numerous investigative journalists and political opponents. Besides murdering the former Russian spy, Putin is suspected of orchestrating the brutal deaths of journalist Anna Politkovskay, human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov. More than a hundred Russian journalists, authors, and human rights workers have been killed since Putin first ascended to the presidency on December 31, 1999.
In a deathbed statement signed shortly before his passing, Litvinenko wrote, “You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.
“You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value.
“You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women.
“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. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.”