Alexander Litvinenko was a former KGB officer who specifically tackled organized crime. Mr. Litvinenko left Russia after accusing its system of being corrupt. He took shelter in the United Kingdom and was later given British citizenship.
However, in November 2006, Alexander Litvinenko fell ill and was admitted to a London hospital. Alexander Litvinenko died on 23rd November 2006 in University College Hospital after being poisoned with polonium 210 (a radioactive poison). His death was probed by Scotland Yard.
1. Mr. Litvinenko and the Russian Government
Alexander Litvinenko was born during the cold war in the Soviet Union. He joined the internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs after graduating from Secondary School in 1980. A year later, he married an accountant named Nataliya. With her, he had a son and daughter named Alexander and Sonia, respectively.
They got divorced in 1994. The same year he married Marina, a fitness instructor and a ballroom dancer. With her, he had a son named Anatoly. After fleeing to Britain, Litvinenko and his family became British citizens.
Alexander Litvinenko received a promotion to the central staff of the Russian agency, specializing in counter-terrorist moves (Federal Counterintelligence Service). Alexander Litvinenko encountered Boris Berezovsky (a wealthy Russian businessman who enjoyed political influence) in 1994, taking part in investigating an assassination attempt on him.
The employment of Mr. Litvinenko under Mr. Berezovsky and other security services initiated a conflict of interest. Alexander was heightened to the FSB Directorate of Analysis and Suppression of Criminal Groups in 1997. Alexander Litvinenko came to be the senior operational official and deputy head of the 7th section.
While working in the FSB, Mr. Litvinenko discovered corruption in the system. Alexander Litvinenko took the matter to higher Russian authorities like Boris Yeltsin and the director of FSB, Mikhail Barsukov, but it did not have any effect. He recognized that the entire system was corrupt.
2. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Alexander Litvinenko
Boris Berezovsky made Alexander Litvinenko known to Vladimir Putin in 1998. Mr. Litvinenko informed Mr. Putin about the corruption in the FSB, but Vladimir Putin was not impressed. According to the former KGB agent, he was inquiring about the Uzbek drug tycoons safeguarded by the FSB, and Mr. Putin tried to delay the investigation to save his prestige.
In a press conference, Mr. Litvinenko and a few other Russian intelligence officers publicly accused their superiors, saying that they ordered the assassination of Mr. Berezovsky. Only excerpts from the interview were broadcast. In the complete interview, they also claimed that they had been instructed to kill, kidnap or frame well-known politicians and business persons in Russia by their seniors.
Alexander Litvinenko was thrown out of his job after the Press Conference. Later, in an interview, Mr. Putin said he dismissed Mr. Litvinenko because officers should not stage press conferences and they should not make inner scandals public. The Russian government prosecuted Mr. Litvinenko after the press conference.
3. Russian Spy in the United Kingdom
Mr. Litvinenko was ordered not to leave Moscow, yet he and his family fled to Turkey and took political asylum in the United Kingdom in 2001. In London, he became an author and started working as a journalist for Chechenpress.
In October 2006, Mr. Litvinenko became a naturalized British citizen. Alexander Litvinenko provided information on Russian organized crime in Europe, especially Russian mafia activities in Spain. Yet the Western press often referred to Mr. Litvinenko as a Russian or KGB spy.
4. Poisoning and Further Investigations of the Death of the Former KGB Officer
On 3rd November 2006, Mr. Litvinenko was admitted to Barnet General Hospital, north London, after he fell ill. He was moved to the University College Hospital in central London for Intensive Care. It was found that he had been poisoned with polonium 210. A significant amount of the rare and highly toxic element was found in his body by the health protection agency.
Before Falling ill, Mr. Litvinenko met Dmitry Kovtun and Andrey Lugovoy (two former KGB agents) on 1st November 2006. They met in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel Pine bar, and traces of the radioactive material were found in the bar. That day Mr. Litvinenko also had a meeting with Italian academic Mario Scaramella, at a Sushi bar, regarding the information on the death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
The Russian journalist was killed three weeks earlier in front of her apartment. Litvinenko believed that President Vladimir Putin ordered the assassination of the Russian journalist. After Litvinenko’s death, Italian academic Mario Scaramella (Who met Litvinenko on 1st November 2006 at a sushi bar) went incognito in fear.
Mr. Litvinenko blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for instructing his assassination. After the ex-KGB agent died, Marina Litvinenko (Litvinenko’s widow) accused the Russian government of killing Mr. Litvinenko.
Following Mr. Litvinenko’s death, President Putin publicly commented that, unfortunately, Mr. Litvinenko was not Lazarus. On 7th December 2006, Litvinenko’s funeral took place in a Central London mosque. His body was buried at Highgate Cemetery, North London.
The poison was in a teapot at the Millennium Hotel Pine Bar, from which Mr. Litvinenko drank tea on 1st November when he met Dmitry Kovtun and Andrey Lugovoy. Professor John Henry was the clinical toxicologist who handled Litvinenko’s poisoning.
Initially, the poison was thought to be thallium, but according to the doctors, thallium poisoning symptoms were slightly odd. Later the toxin was identified as polonium 210, a crucial element of early nuclear bombs.
In November 2006, Alex Goldfarb (a friend of Mr. Litvinenko) claimed that before Alexander Litvinenko died, he asked him to write a letter accusing President Putin of poisoning him. In an interview, Litvinenko’s father Walter Litvinenko said his son was killed by a tiny nuclear bomb.
The British authorities found a hot teapot used for radiation poisoning in their investigation to find who or what killed Alexander Litvinenko. According to the British authorities, the Russian authorities were behind the assassination of Mr. Litvinenko. The murder was supported by the Russian state.
Mr. Lugovoy and Mr. Kovtun tried to poison Mr. Litvinenko three times. They failed the first two times but succeeded the third time. Traces of polonium 210 were found by Scotland Yard in several locations across and out of London. Two British Police officers tested positive for radiation poisoning. The British police also found traces of radiation poisoning on the plane on which Mr. Kovtun came to London from Moscow.
The first attempted murder was at a security company named Erinys International on 16th October. Mr. Litvinenko consumed polonium 210, much less than the lethal dose, and felt ill but survived. Traces of polonium 210 were found in the Erinys boardroom and Itsu restaurant, where they had lunch later that day. Their hotel rooms were also contaminated.
The next attempted murder was done on 25th October when Mr. Lugovoy again left traces of polonium 210 in his hotel. For some reason, he did not poison the former agent then. The final attempt happened on 1st November in the millennium hotel, where a considerable amount of radiation poison was found.
Traces of radiation poison was also found, by Scotland Yard, in his room, a cup at the hotel, and the sushi bar. Mr. Litvinenko used a car where the radioactivity was so high that it could not be used anymore. As a result, Litvinenko died in November 2006 in University College Hospital. Litvinenko’s house, too, was contaminated, and Litvinenko’s widow also tested positive, but no trace was left behind her.
5. Affected Relations between Britain and Russia
After the British police investigated Litvinenko’s murder, the scientists of the Atomic Weapons Establishment found the source of the polonium 210 at a Russia-based nuclear power plant. British authorities wanted to speak to the Russian citizens involved in Mr. Litvinenko’s death. Russia responded, saying the involved Russian men would be tried in Russia and not Britain. And that they will be interrogated in the presence of Russian prosecutors.
A formal request was submitted to the Russian state by the British Foreign Office to extradite Andrey Lugovoy (former KGB officer and one of the two men involved in Mr. Litvinenko’s death) to British soil so that the former KGB spy can face criminal charges relating to Mr. Litvinenko’s death. But Russia denied doing that saying the Russian constitution doesn’t permit extraditing any Russian citizen.
Hence, Mr. Litvinenko’s death on British soil affected the relationship between President Putin, Russia, and Britain. Due to this, according to BBC News, four Russian diplomats were ousted from the Russian Embassy in London.
6. In the End
A public inquiry was conducted in the UK in 2016, according to which the two Russian men, Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun, were responsible for Mr. Litvinenko’s death. They are wanted by the British police. The inquiry also believed their act was perhaps authorized by the Director of FSB and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to Philip Walker, a physics professor at the University of Surrey, polonium 210 was used perhaps because it is difficult to detect in a person who ingested it. Similarly, the most senior KGB agent to abandon Russia, Oleg Gordievsky, said the plan to kill Litvinenko was deliberately made. A chemistry expert from University College London, Dr. Andrea Sella, said that they had problems finding the unknown poison; they didn’t know what the poison was.
It was reported by a Russian TV station that Mr. Litvinenko’s death was related to Mr. Berezovsky. After Litvinenko’s death, Russia dismissed allegations of FSB’s involvement in the unexplained death of the former spy, saying that the former spy was insignificant and the government had no interest in getting Litvinenko killed.
It was also claimed that whoever killed Litvinenko was trying to humiliate President Putin. In 2007, Lugovoy was voted into the Russian parliament. He also obtained the President’s Special Services to the Fatherland award in 2015.