Alexander Litvinenko assassination theories

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Several theories on the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko were circulated following his death from polonium 210 poisoning on 23 November 2006. Litvinenko was a former officer of Russian Federal Security Service who escaped prosecution in Russia and later received a political asylum in Great Britain. Litvinenko wrote two books throughout his career, Blowing up Russia: Terror from within and Lubyanka Criminal Group, where he accused Russian secret services of staging Russian apartment bombings and other terrorism acts to bring Vladimir Putin to power in 2000. On 1 November 2006, Litvinenko suddenly fell ill and was hospitalised. He died three weeks later, and becoming the first known victim of lethal polonium-210-induced acute radiation syndrome.[1][2] According to his doctors: "Litvinenko's murder represents an ominous landmark: the beginning of an era of nuclear terrorism".[3][4][5] Litvinenko's allegations about the misdeeds of the Federal Security Service of Russia (FSB) and his public deathbed accusations that the Russian government was behind his unusual malady resulted in worldwide media coverage.[6]

Russian government involvement theory[edit]

The circumstances surrounding Litvinenko's untimely death led immediately to suspicion that he was killed by a Russian secret service, although there was no hard proof of this and the evidence was only circumstantial.[7] Viktor Ilyukhin, a deputy chairman of the Russian Parliament’s security committee for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, said that he "can’t exclude that possibility". He said: "That former KGB officer had been irritating the Russian authorities for a long time and possibly knew some state secrets. So when our special services got the chance to operate not only inside but outside the country, they decided to get rid of him."[8] He apparently referred to a recent Russian counter-terrorism law that gives the President the right to order such actions.[9][10] Moreover, it has been reported in the Chechen State Press that an investigator of the Russian apartment bombings, Mikhail Trepashkin wrote in a letter from prison that an FSB team had organised in 2002 to kill Litvinenko. He also reported FSB plans to kill relatives of Litvinenko in Moscow in 2002, although these have not been carried out.[11][12]

Leonid Nevzlin, a former Yukos oil company shareholder and Russian exile currently living in Israel, told the Associated Press in late November that Litvinenko had given him a document related to a dossier on criminal charges made by Russian prosecutors against people connected to Yukos. Nevzlin, who is charged by Russian prosecutors with having organised killings, fraud and tax evasion (all these charges are widely believed), claimed Litvinenko's inquiries may have provided a motive for his poisoning.[13]

State Duma member Sergei Abeltsev commented on 24 November 2006:[14]

Litvinenko's widow Marina Litvinenko told Mail on Sunday that she believed the Russian authorities could have been behind the murder, although she didn't think President Putin himself was directly involved. Furthermore, she said she would not cooperate with the Russian investigators:[15]

KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky has stated that Andrei Lugovoi "was working on behalf of the KGB with clear instructions from Putin to kill Litvinenko at any price."[16]

Russian Government response[edit]

The press in Russia has offered a number of alternatives to Litvinenko's demise.[17] As one example, Russian state television has taken the view that if Litvinenko knew any important secrets, he would already have made them public during his six-year-long stay in the United Kingdom. According to this view, he was not an important person and not worth a loud political scandal. Also a suspicious simultaneousness between the deaths of the so-called oppositionals and big international summits with Russian participation was noted, along with the question who could be interested in worsening Russia's and Putin's image in front of them.[18]

Vladimir Putin's aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky commented:

Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, dismissed the idea of Putin's involvement as "pure nonsense".[20] The involvement of Moscow was denied by SVR representative Sergei Ivanov who said:

The main explanation put forward by the Russian Government appears to be that the deaths of Litvinenko and Politkovskaya were intended to embarrass President Putin. Federation Council of Russia Speaker Sergey Mironov said that "reports about Anna Politkovskaya and Litvinenko's deaths were released when Putin was meeting with EU leaders in Finland. I don't think the coincidence was accidental".[22] However, Mironov went on to say, "It would be premature to make any conclusions about Litvinenko's death. We must wait until the investigation produces specific results.".[22] Although a recent Russian counter-terrorism law gives the President the right to order such actions,[10] in fact the law in question refers only to "terrorists and their bases" abroad.

Before polonium-210 was identified as the poison, Vladimir Putin made the comment that

He also called Litvinenko's letter "a provocation".

Since few people had any doubts about this being a case of poisoning, some commentaries that discussed Putin's "curious" comment interpreted it as a give-away of his involvement.[26][27] It has now been stated that the Russian government may consider using UK libel laws to silence journalists speculating about the Russian government's involvement.[28]

Other responses[edit]

Boris Kagarlitsky, a political dissident of the Soviet Union and of post-Soviet Russia, said the Russian authorities are unlikely to have orchestrated Litvinenko's death.[29]

"Personally, I don't think that a decision like this was made at a high level. For Russian authorities, Litvinenko's killing causes more harm than good. This is so obvious that I don't think Russian authorities or even secret-services heads are as incompetent as to not understand this," Kagarlitsky said. "Because this is happening under the eyes of the whole of Europe and to put it mildly, it doesn't improve the reputation of Russia and its current leaders."

He says individual agents in Russia's secret services were most likely to have poisoned Litvinenko with the aim of discrediting the Kremlin.

British novelist and historian Rupert Allason said he would be most surprised if the FSB had tried to kill Mr Litvinenko because it would fly in the face of 65 years of Soviet or Russian practice, as "[n]either the FSB nor the KGB has ever killed a defector on foreign soil and their predecessors, even under Stalin, did so only once in the case of Walter Krivitsky in Washington in 1941."[30] While this may be true, the KGB did attempt to poison Nikolai Khokhlov in 1957, three years after he defected, having been asked to supervise the murder of Georgiy Okolovich, a chairman of the National Alliance of Russian Solidarists. Despite some reports that a recent Russian counter-terrorism law gives the President the right to order such actions,[10] in fact the law in question refers only to "terrorists and their bases" abroad.

According to an article in the Moscow Times, analysts have agreed that the Kremlin had little motive to kill Litvinenko. They point out, that it was clear that the fallout from his death would be more damaging to the government than any of Litvinenko's criticism or his private investigations into Politkovskaya's death and Russia's 1999 apartment bombings.[31]

In 2009 Paolo Guzzanti published a book [32] where he stated that Litvinenko told the Mitrokhin Commission about a connection between Romano Prodi and Soviet KGB, post-Soviet FSB.[33] He believed that Litvinenko was killed because of Mitrokhin Commission and that Vladimir Putin had an interest in ruining the commission.

Berezovsky theory[edit]

It has been claimed the death of Litvinenko was connected to Boris Berezovsky.[34][35] Former FSB chief Nikolay Kovalyov, for whom Litvinenko worked, said that the incident "looks like [the] hand of Berezovsky. I am sure that no kind of intelligence services participated."[36] This involvement of Berezovsky was alleged by numerous Russian television shows.[37] Kremlin supporters saw it as a conspiracy to smear Russia's reputation by engineering a spectacular murder.[38] They see Berezovsky's involvement as another campaign to ruin Putin's reputation internationally. Berezovsky admitted in 2007, that he was plotting to bring down the Russian government. "We need to use force to change this regime," he said. "It isn't possible to change this regime through democratic means. There can be no change without force, pressure."[39]

After Litvinenko's death, traces of polonium-210 were found in an office of Berezovsky.[40] Russian prosecutors were not allowed to investigate Boris Berezovsky's office in London for the radioactive trace.[41] Russian authorities have also been unable to question him. The Foreign Ministry complained that Britain was obstructing its attempt to send prosecutors to London to interview more than 100 people, including Berezovsky.[42]

In November 1998, Litvinenko himself had alleged there was a plot to kill Berezovsky who was the deputy director of the Russia state security council at this time. Litvinenko was allegedly ordered to be the assassin but refused follow the order [37][43]

British intelligence theory[edit]

In July 2007, Russian officials announced a criminal investigation had been opened into allegations made by Vyacheslav Zharko, who had turned himself in to the FSB.[44] Zharko said that he worked for British intelligence since 2002 and claimed that Litvinenko and Boris Berezovsky introduced him to MI6.[44][45] Zharko alleged that Litvinenko planned a series of terrorism acts including murder of Russian president Vladimir Putin.[46] An FSB spokesman said: "The Brits have been waging an information war against us and now we are responding in kind.".[44]

Lugovoi also accused British intelligence agents of being behind the killing, and claimed MI6 had tried to recruit him to spy on Russia.[47] Later, on 27 October 2007, the Daily Mail, citing unnamed "diplomatic and intelligence sources," stated that Mr Litvinenko was paid about £2,000 per month by the SIS (the British Secret Intelligence Service, better known by its former name – MI6) at the time of his murder.[48] Allegedly, Sir John Scarlett, the current head of the SIS, was personally involved in recruiting him. The claim was at first dismissed as "nonsense" by Mr Litvinenko's widow. During that time she said:[48]

"President Putin is providing Mr Lugovoi with his personal endorsement and backing in the eyes of the world. This indicates that Russia has something to hide and adds credence to Alexander's deathbed statement naming Mr Putin as the instigator of his murder."

But after the case was reopened in 2011, she admitted that Litvinenko was indeed a paid agent of British secret services.[49]

According to Alexander Goldfarb, a co-author of Litvinenko:[50]

"Litvinenko was living in England. I don't see what value he could have been to the British security services. Putin's regime believes that there is a British conspiracy against Russia and that Russian exiles in England are working for the security services. They are paranoid."[51]

Yukos theory[edit]

It has been suggested that Litvinenko was killed because of his research into the Russian Government's campaign against the management of the Russian oil company Yukos and its renationalisation. According to The Times, the police investigation is looking at Litvinenko's journey to Israel prior to his illness and death, where it is alleged that he gave information regarding Yukos to Leonid Nevzlin, the former deputy head of Yukos, who fled to Tel Aviv, including material relating to the deaths of former Yukos workers and information relating to the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.[52] It is believed that these documents have been handed over to the British investigators.[53][54]

Yuri Shvets a former KGB agent has contacted police in London and detectives have flown out to Washington to interview him. He told The Observer that Litvinenko claimed before his death that he had prepared a dossier on the Russian Government's relationship with Yukos.[55]

Ex-FSB members theory[edit]

According to the Guardian: "British officials say the perpetrators were probably former Russian security agents, or members of a criminal gang linked to them. They also say that only a "state" institution would have access to polonium-210. They insist there is no evidence of the involvement of the Russian government."[56][57] Further investigation has shown that the substance is sold freely on the Internet in the United States and is widely used in antistatic products.[57]

"Scaramella showed Litvinenko a "hit-list" of people allegedly targeted for assassination by the Russian intelligence services and a shadowy group of KGB veterans called Dignity and Honour, which is run by a Colonel Velentin Velichko."[58] Scaramella was, however, doubtful as to the authenticity of the emails he had received: "The problem for me was these mails were so full of details, so specific that they didn't seem genuine."[59] Moreover, according to Scaramella, Litvinenko was also sceptical: "Alex laughed it off. He didn't have faith in the person who sent the message and said the whole thing was incredible. He said it was not realistic at all."[60]

The Russian intelligence services are highly bureaucratic and legalistic. "There isn't a great deal of room for personal initiative, everything has to be officially authorised and signed off. And this murder would have been a highly complex operation involving many people not one or two acting in isolation."[58]

2008 election theory[edit]

A Kremlin insider Stanislav Belkovsky said the poisoning was an attempt by supporters of Dmitry Medvedev to force Putin to push aside the siloviks and appoint Medvedev his successor, which would be necessary to whitewash Putin's image after the murder of Litvinenko (that was claimed in 2006)[61]

Litvinenko-Shvets report[edit]

In an interview with the BBC broadcast on 16 December 2006, Yuri Shvets said that he and Litvinenko had compiled a report investigating the activities of senior Kremlin officials on behalf of a British company looking to invest "dozens of millions of dollars" in a project in Russia.[62] Shvets said the dossier was so incriminating about one senior Kremlin official, who was not named, it was likely that Litvinenko was murdered in revenge. He alleged that Litvinenko had shown the dossier to another business associate, Andrei Lugovoi, who had worked for the KGB and later the FSB. Shvets alleged that Lugovoi is still an FSB informant and he had passed the dossier to members of the spy service. Shvets says he was interviewed about his allegations by Scotland Yard detectives investigating Litvinenko's murder.

Polonium smuggling and careless handling theory[edit]

Polonium is an important element in nuclear weapons triggers, and thus, smuggling of Polonium would presumably be a very lucrative activity for an ex-spy who is believed to have been facing serious economic difficulties as his erstwhile employer and sponsor, Boris Berezovsky, was increasingly disinclined to provide further funding.

According to The Independent, Litvinenko told the Italian academic he met on the day he fell ill that he had organised the smuggling of nuclear material out of Russia, for his security service employers, to Zürich, Switzerland in 2000.[63] Though no mention is made in the allegations of the specific nature of the nuclear material.

Mary Dejevsky wrote that her explanation of Litvinenko's death was the careless handling of radioactive material.[64] Dejevsky wrote that "no one in Britain," including Litvinenko's widow, has seen the documents Britain sent to Moscow in support of Lugovoy's extradition request.

The Russian lower house MP Andrei Lugovoi has also speculated, that Litvinenko's death may be the result of his careless handling of polonium. "One of the core versions could be that Litvinenko carelessly handled polonium which he may have had. His real hatred for those in power in Russia then, for the intelligence service, for everything Russian should be taken into account."[65] It should be noted that Andrei Lugovoi's ongoing extradition is being sought by the Crown Prosecution Service in connection with Litvinenko's poisoning.

Dmitry Kovtun said in an interview to Spiegel TV that his radioactive trail was due to his earlier meetings with Litvinenko in London 16–18 October 2006. Kovtun was under investigation by German detectives for suspected polonium smuggling into Germany in October. According to BBC, Litvinenko's bus ticket he used to get to 1 November meeting was not found radioactive.[66]

Joseph Farah claimed at World Net Daily that MI6 had learned about Al Qaida offering millions of dollars to anyone that could supply them with polonium. Farah wrote that GCHQ intercepted a phone call in Peshawar implying that Al Qaida were actively seeking polonium.[67]

Edward Jay Epstein, an American journalist, wrote in the New York Sun that Britain sent "embarrassingly thin substantiation" of its claims against Lugovoy. His hypothesis was that "Litvinenko came in contact with a Polonium-210 smuggling operation and was [..] exposed to it".[68][69]

Russia Today's editors wrote that Epstein said there was "no substantial evidence against Lugovoy".[70]

Talik theory[edit]

Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy suggested in The Guardian that Litvinenko was murdered on the initiative of Alexander Talik, a close associate of Andrei Lugovoi with a background in the FSB. In a phone call which was tapped, Talik said: "Complete bullshit has been written about me." "Litvinenko has blamed me for organising arms shipments from the Ukraine." "I've asked for the address of this arsehole in London and I've given a dossier to Vitalich [a person whose identity is not further specified] who will take everything to Moscow." In November 2005, Litvinenko had given information to Ukrainian media according to which Talik participated in a failed plot. In January 2006, Litvinenko met Lugovoi for the first time.[71]

Private investigator and blackmailer theory[edit]

An unnamed ex-KGB officer who talked to James Rodgers of BBC suspected that Litvinenko "was running short of cash and had no more KGB stories to tell or sell". The source believed that Litvinenko then engaged in a "potentially deadly deal".[72]

According to an interview with Andrei Lugovoi by RIA Novosti, Litvinenko had serious financial problems and badly needed money, as his allowances had been reduced three-fold over the summer[73]

According to Julia Svetlichnaja, a Russian doctoral candidate at the University of Westminster's Center for the Study of Democracy, Litvinenko "was going to blackmail or sell sensitive information about all kinds of powerful people including oligarchs, corrupt officials and sources in the Kremlin". Ms. Svetlichnaya said that Litvinenko "mentioned a figure of £10,000 they would pay each time to stop him broadcasting these FSB documents" and that he "was short of money and was adamant that he could obtain any files he wanted."[74]

According to unnamed British security sources contacted with Richard Beeston, Daniel McGrory and Tony Halpin of The Times, "Litvinenko might have been killed after a deal that went wrong with associates involved in the ruthless world of Russian business".[75] The article's authors said Litvinenko "was envious of the money many of his former colleagues were making" and that his friends said he claimed to be involved in investigations of smuggling rings for nuclear material and prostitutes.

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