Putin implicated in fatal poisoning of former KGB spy at posh London hotel
The findings — nearly a decade after Alexander Litvinenko succumbed to the effects of the radioactive polonium slipped into his cup of green tea at London’s Millennium Hotel — is sure to raise tensions between London and Moscow and possibly sharpen the focus on other suspicious deaths among Putin’s foes.
Theresa May, Britain’s Home Secretary, announced from the floor of the House of Commons that Britain would summon the Russian ambassador to express “profound displeasure” over Russia’s “blatant and unacceptable breach of the most fundamental tenants of international law.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry quickly dismissed the report’s conclusions Thursday as “politically motivated.”
Litvinenko’s widow called Thursday for Britain to expel Russian intelligence officials and enact new sanctions in retaliation for the killing of her husband, an outspoken critic of Putin.
The inquiry’s findings come at a highly sensitive time, as the West seeks Russian cooperation in ending the Syrian war. The British government, meanwhile, may not want to add fresh hostility to an already troubled relationship.
The inquiry found that two men deliberately poisoned Litvinenko, and were almost certainly working on behalf of the Russian intelligence agency FSB. The two named assassins, Andrei Lugovoi and Dimitry Kovtun, remain in Russia, and the Russian government has rebuffed British attempts to secure their extradition.
Lugovoi, a former KGB officer, is now a member of the Russian parliament. On Thursday he called the allegations against him “absurd.”
Kovtun, now a businessman, did not respond to requests for comment. He told Russian journalists Thursday that he wanted to learn more about the report before responding to it.
The inquiry’s findings, set out over 328 pages, include that Putin had a personal motive for wanting Litvinenko dead, and that the president would likely have had to approve a high-stakes operation to assassinate the former KGB operative on British soil.
The assassination has been described by a British Parliamentary committee as “a miniature nuclear attack on the streets of London.”
Before his death, Litvinenko had been assisting Spanish intelligence agencies with their investigations into Russian crime networks. Litvinenko was also on the payroll of Britain’s main foreign intelligence service, MI6.
Litvinenko himself had accused Putin of orchestrating the assassination, signing a death-bed statement that alleged the Russian president had ordered Russian intelligence to carry out the killing. Before the poisoning, Litvinenko had publicly accused Putin of everything from corruption to pedophilia.
The findings follow an extensive, multi-year review that was led by British high court judge Robert Owen, and was set up at the direction of the British government.
Although the inquiry stops short of conclusively blaming Putin — citing the opaque nature of Kremlin politics — it concludes that there is “strong circumstantial evidence that the Russian State was responsible for Mr. Litvinenko’s death.” And it finds that the operation would likely not have gone ahead without Putin’s direct approval.
Litvinenko was a British citizen at the time of his death, and had spent years on the payroll of MI6, following his decision to defect from Russia in 2000.
Following the report’s release, Marina Litvinenko, the former spy’s widow, called on British Prime Minister David Cameron to expel Russian intelligence officials from Britain and for Russia to be slapped with new economic sanctions.
“I am of course very pleased that the words my husband spoke on his deathbed — when he accused Mr. Putin of his
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