The widow of Alexander Litvinenko has submitted a claim against Russia to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), seeking 3.5 million euros (US$4.14 million) in compensation for his murder by radiation poisoning in London.
Marina Litvinenko is requesting punitive damages and payment for accumulated lost income.
A UK public inquiry concluded that her husband’s murder in 2006 was probably ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The submission also asks the Strasbourg judges to rule on the significance of the pattern of targeted assassinations and attempted killings allegedly carried out by Russian state agents across Europe and the Middle East.
Among the attacks listed are the 2018 poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, and the subsequent death of Dawn Sturgess after she handled a discarded container filled with the nerve agent Novichok.
Russia is a member of the Council of Europe, which oversees the ECHR. To date the court has never awarded punitive or exemplary damages. It is being urged to do so in the exceptional circumstances of this claim and to prevent Russia from continuing its policy of covert elimination.
The legal arguments, submitted by Ben Emmerson QC, who represents Marina Litvinenko, refashion a claim first sent to Strasbourg in 2007 by her then-lawyers, one of whom was Keir Starmer QC, now leader of the UK Labour Party.
The UK government is cooperating with the Strasbourg court as it gathers evidence to assess the case.
However, it has declined to intervene directly in support of the widow’s claim, partially on the grounds that it could affect the way the court deals with future British cases.
Alexander Litvinenko was a former KGB officer who spoke out about corruption inside Russia before fleeing with his family to Britain. He was poisoned with the radioactive isotope polonium-210.
The inquiry found it had been administered by two Russian agents, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, whom Litvinenko met in London. They have repeatedly denied involvement.
Marina Litvinenko told the Guardian: “It is almost 14 years since my husband was killed. We had to fight to get a public inquiry. It has taken a long time to bring this case to justice. It was a state-sponsored crime. Now we are talking not just about my husband being poisoned, but also Sergei and Yulia Skripal and the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. These were chemical weapons, forbidden weapons of destruction.”
“If we can’t bring the people who committed this crime to London … then someone still needs to be held responsible. The Russian government under Putin never says sorry. As the [widow from the] first [poisoning] case, it is very important to me to take it to Strasbourg and stand up for my rights,” she said.
In her compensation claim, Litvinenko is seeking about 2 million euros in loss of earnings that her husband, and she would have made through their work.
There is also an additional element for psychological care, for counseling to overcome the trauma of her loss.
A further 1.5 million euros is claimed to reflect the seriousness of the violation of her rights as well as exemplary, or punitive, damages to deter Russia from further clandestine assassinations.
The case raises complex legal questions about how the ECHR applies the principle of extraterritorial jurisdiction where one state carries out assassinations on the territory of another. Among others who have applied to intervene is UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard.
The British Foreign Office said: “The murder of Alexander Litvinenko was a blatant and unacceptable breach of international law. We’re committed to securing justice for the death of Mr Litvinenko, as demonstrated by the UK’s extensive police investigation and the inquiry into his death.”
The Kremlin has denied that it was responsible for the attacks.
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