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01:37 PM | Sun, 11 Dec 2016

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Putin Implicated in Killing of Litvinenko

324 Days ago
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David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, last night (Thursday) criticised President Vladimir Putin for presiding over the "state-sponsored murder" of Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian dissident.A public inquiry into the poisoning of the former KGB officer with a radioactive substance found Mr Putin "probably" sanctioned the assassination by two Russian agents in London in 2006.Mr Cameron said Britain had frozen the suspects' assets as punishment for the "absolutely appalling" crime, but critics called his response weak.Mr Litvinenko's widow, Marina, who has fought a 10-year campaign for the truth, demanded economic sanctions against Russia, a travel ban on Mr Putin and the expulsion of all Russian intelligence operatives from Britain.Andy Burnham, the shadow home secretary, called for a review of the UK's diplomatic, cultural, political and economic links to Russia, including its hosting of the 2018 World Cup as a way of applying pressure. He said inaction could "send a dangerous signal to Russia that our response is too weak".Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat Party leader, said: "These assassins trampled over British sovereignty and we cannot let this go unanswered". Ian Austin, an opposition Labour MP, said: "Putin is an unreconstructed KGB thug and gangster who murders his opponents in Russia and, as we know, on the streets of London - and nothing announced today is going to make the blindest bit of difference." Mr Cameron said he was not ruling out taking further steps against Russia over its "unacceptable breach of international law", but admitted that Britain had to maintain "some sort of relationship with them" to seek a solution to the Syria crisis, something he did "with clear eyes and a very cold heart".The Kremlin said the inquiry's findings would "poison" Britain's relationship with Russia, dismissing the report as "a joke". Alexander Yakovenko, Russia's ambassador to London, was summoned to the Foreign Office for a dressing down but moments later described the findings as a "whitewash".The report by Sir Robert Owen, a High Court judge, concluded that Mr Litvinenko was murdered by Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun, former KGB agents, almost certainly on the orders of the Federal Security Service (FSB). It said Mr Putin and Nikolai Patrushev, the then head of the FSB, "probably" sanctioned Mr Litvinenko's death, and Mr Putin certainly expressed his approval after the event.The 327-page report details the extraordinary lengths to which the Russians went to carry out what the Litvinenko family solicitor described as "an act of nuclear terrorism" on the streets of London. The Two-Year PlanSir Robert said it was "entirely possible" that the plot to kill Mr Litvinenko was under way when he first met Lugovoy in October 2004.Mr Litvinenko believed Lugovoy, who offered to help him with private security work, was someone he could "trust entirely" because he was an associate of Boris Berezovsky, a fellow dissident, and had even served jail time for supporting him. But Sir Robert suggested Lugovoy's jail sentence may have been arranged by the FSB to enable him to get close to opponents of Mr Putin.Mr Litvinenko, a former FSB agent, had been regarded by the Kremlin as "an enemy of the Russian state" ever since he and his family fled to Britain in 2000, having accused the FSB of corruption and mass murder. He was so hated that Russian special forces used pictures of his face for target practice.In October 2006, Lugovoy introduced him to Dmitri Kovtun, another former KGB agent. They met in the boardroom of Erinys, a private security firm, where the two men made their first attempt to poison Mr Litvinenko, the report says. He began vomiting, which he put down to food poisoning. Sir Robert said there may also have been another, aborted, attempt on Mr Litvinenko's life when Lugovoy was in London later that month.On Nov 1, he met the two men again, this time in a bar at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair. He drank green tea that had been laced with the deadly isotope polonium-210, and died on Nov 23. A Very Expensive Poison Sir Robert concluded that Lugovoy and Kovtun "knew they were using a deadly poison" and intended to kill Mr Litvinenko, but did not know precisely what the poison was, or its properties.Kovtun boasted to his former boss in Hamburg, where he was living and working, that he was planning to poison Mr Litvinenko with "a very expensive poison". Once back in Germany, Kovtun fell ill and told his former wife's mother he had "probably got some of the poison which killed Litvinenko". The Hampered InvestigationIn December 2006, Scotland Yard's Det Insp Brian Tarpey and Det Serg Alan Slater went to Moscow in search of evidence. They were hamstrung by "obstructiveness on the part of their Russian colleagues", who said that only one of them could be present at interviews, lists of questions had to be provided in advance, and they could not make their own recordings of the interviews.When they tried to interview Lugovoy and Kovtun, meetings were cancelled at short notice then hastily rearranged, with limited opportunity for questions. When the interview recordings handed to them in Moscow were examined back in London, there was no tape of Lugovoy's questioning.The Russians also refused to allow access to two Russian aircraft on which the two men had flown, which the police wanted to test for polonium. The Traitor Is DeadOn Nov 24 2006, the day after Litvinenko died, Sergey Abeltsev, a member of the Russian State Duma, made a speech on the floor of the Duma in which he said: "Last night Alexander Litvinenko died ... the deserved punishment reached the traitor. I am confident that this terrible death will be a serious warning to traitors of all colours wherever they are located. In Russia, they do not pardon treachery." President Putin callously noted on the same day that "Mr Litvinenko is, unfortunately, not Lazarus". Why Putin Must Have KnownAlex Goldfarb, a Russian dissident, told the inquiry that in Russia such high-profile measures are usually authorised "at the highest political level". Transferring polonium from the atomic energy ministry to the FSB would require the authority of the presidential administration, and "nobody in the Russian hierarchy would initiate such an operation without covering their back" because "otherwise it would be an unauthorised operation specifically involving an issue which is very close to Mr Putin".He said Mr Putin is known for his attention to detail and does not trust his underlings. Mr Lugovoy, now a prominent MP in Russia, has been supported and protected by Mr Putin. Sir Robert said: "President Putin's conduct towards Mr Lugovoy suggests a level of approval for the killing of Mr Litvinenko".

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