Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably” approved a plan by Federal Security Service (FSB) to kill former agent Alexander Litvinenko, who died three weeks after drinking tea laced with poison at a London hotel, a British judge said yesterday.
In a lengthy report, Robert Owen said that he is certain Litvinenko was given tea with a fatal dose of polonium-210, a radioactive isotope that is deadly if ingested even in tiny quantities, in November 2006.
He said there is a “strong probability” that the FSB, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, directed the killing, and the operation was “probably approved” by Putin.
Before he died, Litvinenko accused Putin of ordering his killing, but this appears to be the first time anyone has officially linked Putin to it.
Moscow has always strongly denied involvement in Litvinenko’s death.
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zhakarova said that the government does not consider Owen’s conclusions to be objective or impartial.
“We regret that a purely criminal case has been politicized and has darkened the general atmosphere of bilateral relations,” Zhakarova said in a statement.
She said Britain’s decision to hold a public inquiry on the case was politically motivated and that the process was not transparent for the Russian side or the public.
Russia has refused to extradite the two main suspects, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun.
Lugovoi is a member of the Russian parliament, which means he is immune from prosecution.
In an interview with the Interfax news agency, he called the charges against him “absurd.”
“As we expected, there was no sensation,” he said. “The results of the investigation that were announced today once again confirm London’s anti-Russian position and the blinkered view and unwillingness of the British to establish the true cause of Litvinenko’s death.”
Litvinenko, a former FSB agent, fled to Britain in 2000 and became a vocal critic of Russia’s security service and of Putin, whom he accused of links to organized crime.
Owen said Litvinenko “was regarded as having betrayed the FSB” with his actions and that “there were powerful motives for organizations and individuals within the Russian state to take action against Mr Litvinenko, including killing him.”
Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, said outside the High Court that she was “very pleased that the words my husband spoke on his deathbed when he accused Mr Putin have been proved by an English court.”
She called for British Prime Minister David Cameron to take urgent steps against Russian agents operating inside Britain in light of the report.
“I’m calling immediately for expulsion from the UK of all Russian intelligence operatives ... based at the London embassy,” she said. “I’m also calling for the imposition of targeted economic sanctions and travel bans against named individuals including Mr [former FSB head Nikolai] Patrushev and Mr Putin.”
She said Britain’s Home Office had written to her on Wednesday night promising action.
In his 326-page report, Owen said that based on the evidence he had seen, the operation to kill Litvinenko was “probably” approved by then-FSB head Nikolai Patrushev, now head of Putin’s security council, and by Putin.
Owen said Litvinenko “repeatedly targeted President Putin” with “highly personal” public criticism.
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