A British investigation into the 2006 murder of Russian whistleblower Alexander Litvinenko concludes Russian President Vladimir Putin likely approved the assassination.
Litvinenko was a former KGB officer who defected to London to expose corruption within Kremlin’s security services shortly before his death. Litvinenko fell ill after his tea was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 Nov. 1 2006. He died 23 days later.
Retired High Court judge Robert Owen released his findings Thursday from a one-year investigation into the murder in a 328-page report. The report doesn’t offer any direct evidence linking Putin to Litvinenko’s assassination, but Owen concludes there is “strong circumstantial evidence of Russian state responsibility.”
Owen had access to a “considerable quantity” of classified intelligence that was never presented in court, which indicates that Putin and Nikolai Patrushev, Kremlin’s then-head of security, approved the execution allegedly carried out by Russia’s federal security service FSB. Putin’s motives were not just of political nature, but it was also revealed that there was strong “personal antagonism” between the president and Litvinenko.
One of the alleged assassins, Andrei Lugovoi, has received “favorable treatment” from Putin which points toward approval of the assassination, “or at least that it wishes to to signal approval of it.” Logovoi also sent a t-shirt to Boris Berezovsky, another Russian defector and close friend of Litvinenko, with the text “Nuclear death is knocking at your door.”
The alternative suggestion that the assassination was ordered by the Russian mafia is not implausible, according to Owen, but the available evidence does not support such a theory. Part of Litvinenko’s revelations exposed links between the Kremlin and the mafia.
The Russian Embassy in London dismissed the accusations as a “blatant provocation by British authorities.” A Kremlin spokesman called the report “a joke” and said it will “poison” relationships between the two countries.
“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,” Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to the U.K., said in a statement. “This gross provocation of the British authorities cannot help hurting our bilateral relationship.”
Litvinenko’s widow Marina read a statement outside the Royal Court of Justice following Owen’s inquiry. She called on British Prime Minister David Cameron to impose sanctions on Russia, including a travel ban against Putin.
British Home Secretary Theresa May said Cameron would discuss the findings with Putin at “the first available opportunity.”
“This was a blatant and unacceptable breach of the most fundamental tenets of international law and civilized behavior,” May said. “But we have to accept that this doesn’t come as a surprise.”
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