News & Politics

Britain, Russia Spar Over Alleged Putin Involvement in London Assassination of KGB Defector

A Painting of Poisoned Ex-KGB Spy Who Defected to Britain, Alexander Litvinenko

In 2006, former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko — who is said to have defected in order to join MI6 — died painfully of the radioactive isotope polonium 210 placed in his tea in London after a meeting with two Russian security agents. Litvinenko lingered for three weeks, cadaverous and having lost his hair. On his deathbed, he blamed Russian president Vladimir Putin for ordering his assassination:

You may succeed in silencing me, but that silence comes at a price. 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.

A bombshell British inquiry, released today, says the dying man’s declaration is correct.

The report, overseen by senior judge Robert Owen, alleges that Litvinenko was poisoned by agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the principal heir to the Soviet-era KGB, on Putin’s order. The agents, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, have denied the charges.

Moscow is not pleased. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the report will “poison” Russia’s relationship with Britain. The Kremlin’s ambassador to Britain, Alexander Yakovenko, claimed he presented seven official complaints, listed on the embassy’s website, to the British government in person. Among other things, Yakovenko said that the investigation was “a blatant provocation of the British authorities,” and claimed its findings cannot be believed, as they were arrived at in secret.

“For us it is absolutely unacceptable that the report concludes [that] the Russian state was in any way involved in the death of Mr. Litvinenko on British soil,” he said.

But if Putin ordered Litvinenko killed, it wouldn’t be the first time, CNN reported. The news station listed eight other Putin critics who have died or been jailed after publicly criticizing the Russian president.