An inquiry into the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko finds that Russian president Vladimir Putin “probably” ordered the former KGB spy’s agonizing death. In a turn of events that sounds like a 007 henchman move, a 300+ page report digs into the highly suspicious poisoning method by which Litvinenko passed (after fingering Putin as the culprit). The fatal instrument, polonium-210, isn’t something you can pick up at a nearby pharmacy, and it slowly killed Litvinenko over a period of three weeks.
Polonium-210 is a radioactive substance that can only be found at Russian nuclear facilities. Discovered by Marie Curie, the tiniest speck of this lethal substance will eliminate one’s enemies, but Litvinenko’s death stands as the only documented case of planned polonium poisoning. Death by polonium must be deliberate (by ingestion), and the Litvinenko inquiry finds that the former KGB spy drank green tea containing the material. Two Putin associates allegedly served the tea.
The full Litvinenko report contains several stunning allegations relating to possible motive. Among them, Putin is accused of having a “declared animosity” against Litvinenko, which reached its peak in 2006 when Litvinenko alleged Putin of pedophilia. The report also says Litvinenko possessed videotapes of Putin “making sex with some underage boys.” The damning evidence of the poisoning scheme runs throughout the report, and journalist Gordon Rayner tweeted photos and diagrams of the English hotel boardroom where polonium-210 was detected.
This case bubbled for a decade before the inquiry published on Thursday, but The Telegraph‘s response to the report was immediate. The paper did not hold back with their assessment of Putin and his “increasingly dictatorial” reign:
The motive for what amounts to an unprovoked act of nuclear terrorism on the streets of London is that Mr Putin was angered by the personal “antagonism” he faced from the former Russian intelligence officer, who had sought asylum in Britain after exposing the corruption that is endemic in Putin’s Russia.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued its usual, lame excuses, claiming the Kremlin had nothing to do with the murder, and that the British government is simply “politicising” what was essentially a criminal act.
The Independent takes a subtler approach by discussing the “circumstantial” evidence behind a series of alleged state-sponsored murders in Russia. The paper also publishes Litvinenko’s deathbed letter, which finishes, “You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.”
Police previously confirmed Litvinenko’s death from polonium, but attempts to extradite the two prime suspects — Russians Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun — did not succeed. Lugovoi, who now serves as MP in the Duma in Moscow, later received a “services to the motherland” medal from Putin. Lugovoi issued a statement over the inquiry, which he calls untrue and “absurd.” The fallout from this inquiry will run far and wide.