11 July 2020

Saturday, 13:54



People who followed the order to eliminate Aleksandr Litvinenko are unlikely to appear before court



The special services can play whatever games they like, as long as there isn't another cold war. This applies to the political crime thriller that is the investigation into the murder of former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko. His name, as well as Berezovskiy's and Lugovoy's, is everywhere: the media with admirable constancy report the tiniest details of this notorious case. 

It has acquired notoriety because of the manner in which Litvinenko was killed - he is said to have been poisoned by a radioactive substance, polonium-210. This original approach by the murderer or murderers speaks for itself - the client did not want to cover his traces at all: quite the reverse, he wanted to leave as many dirty traces as possible. Hence the impressive polonium trail in hotels, aeroplanes and the organisms of other people, some of whom were connected to the former FSB agent and others who were not. After all, professionals (and there is no doubt that professionals removed Litvinenko) could have seen to it that there was no trace left at all. Of course, nobody speaks about it openly but everyone knows that there are plenty of other, more refined, ways of eliminating officials, activists and businessmen in the various countries of the world. What can be said about the former Russian special services officer? As Shellenberg said to fictional Soviet secret agent Stirlitz: "You will end your life in a concentration camp. But Muller won't put you in prison: you know too much. People like you are buried with full honours after a car crash." The Western press still publishes comment that Princess Diana did not die in an accident. A similar tragedy happened to the popular former governor of Altay Territory, Mikhail Yevdokimov, whose career was progressing too quickly. Allegedly he had phone calls, threats and there are even witness statements, but he still died in a car accident. It can happen to anyone. Governors do have car crashes. The cable could have snapped in the lift that Litvinenko was using, he could have taken the wrong medicine or crossed the road in the wrong place or a brick could have fallen on his head - no-one is insured against that. But he was poisoned with polonium - poisoned for show, in the expectation of lengthy discussions, prominent revelations and famous statements, which is what we can see now. The plan has clearly succeeded.


Case summary

Alexander Litvinenko was a former Russian Federation FSB officer, who fled to the UK in 2000 and received British citizenship in 2006. He died on 23 November last year in University College Hospital, London. After his death specialists from the British public health authorities said that they had found a "significant" quantity of the radioactive element polonium-210 in Litvinenko's body. However, the authorities have not published official conclusions on the cause of death or the results of the post-mortem.

Litvinenko's devilishly complex case took a new turn in late May, early June, in no small part due to a statement from Russian Federation Deputy Interior Minister Arkadiy Yedelev. Yedelev said that during criminal investigations into the attack by fighters on Dagestan and the terrorist attacks in Volgodonsk, Moscow, Buynaksk and Stavropol Territory the Russian Federation Prosecutor General's Office and the FSB had obtained material confirming that Boris Berezovskiy had been financing Chechen fighters. According to the witnesses, the disgraced oligarch had given Basayev several million roubles to rebuild a factory, which Basayev took and for some reason spent (surprise, surprise) on weapons. Yedelev also announced that former FSB agent Litvinenko had entered Chechnya via Georgian territory in order to eliminate witnesses to Basayev and Berezovskiy's financial deals. Moreover, Litvinenko, whose mission failed, was acting on the orders of the disgraced oligarch. The accused Berezovskiy's response wasn't long in coming: "If Sasha had left London for the Caucasus, he would have told me. And what about the 'fortress borders'? How could Sasha, even from Georgia, have managed to get to Chechnya or other regions of Russia, past the border guards and special services?" As for Berezovskiy's 'sponsorship' of Basayev, Boris Abramovich does not deny giving him money at all, according to Russian newspaper Kommersant. Berezovskiy says that he met the field commander "during the truce between Moscow and Groznyy" when he was deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council. "There were elections in Chechnya at that time, Aslan Maskhadov was recognized as president by the Russian authorities and Basayev was carrying out the duties of prime minister," Berezovskiy said, adding that "what the Chechen leaders did with the money" was a question not for him, but for the "competent bodies". He did not forget to say that at that time Moscow was using money to establish good relations with Groznyy.

On 31 May, a day before the Russian Foreign Ministry's statement, Russian businessman Andrey Lugovoy, a former special services agent accused by the British authorities of murdering Litvinenko, held a press conference and said that Berezovskiy and Litvinenko were British counterintelligence agents working for MI6 and were working with Chechen fighters (Litvinenko carried out Akhmed Zakayev's instructions). (It follows from what Lugovoy said that the British secret services also cooperated with the Chechen fighters.) Lugovoy claims that Litvinenko was in the Pankisi Gorge, a part of Georgia on the border with Chechnya. According to the Russian authorities, the fighters had bases there. Dmitiry Kovtun, a businessman and friend of Lugovoy, confirmed the latter's claims. Kovtun said that Litvinenko himself had told him about his connections with terrorist organizations in the North Caucasus. The late FSB agent allegedly also took part in organizing incidents "that took place several years ago in Nalchik, in which around 75 Russian members of the law-enforcement agencies died". It is worth noting that Kovtun is named in the criminal case against Lugovoy as his accomplice, as he was present at his friend's meeting with Litvinenko in Millennium Hotel on 1 November 2006, the day of the assumed poisoning.

Lugovoy also said that MI6 had tried to recruit him, as well as Berezovskiy and Litvinenko, suggesting that he obtain compromising material on Russian President Vladimir Putin and members of his family. Kovtun said that Litvinenko had even given him a special device to digitize information, Grishkovets' book Rubashka. They suggested codifying the text according to the numbers of pages, paragraphs and lines. (Fictional hero Stirlitz made similar use of a volume of Montaigne.) In order to maintain contact Lugovoy was given "an English mobile phone handset" which he could use to phone London from Moscow.

As for Litvinenko's murderers, Lugovoy suggested several candidates: the British special services, Boris Berezovskiy and the "Russian mafia".


Theory No 1

Litvinenko was fed up of his British employers who "undervalued him and underpaid him for his services" while he himself no longer suited MI6. The failure to recruit Lugovoy only hastened Litvinenko's downfall in the eyes of the British. "Trying at any cost to achieve his intelligence objective, Litvinenko often exceeded the bounds of his role as a recruiting agent and blurted out too much in conversations with me," Lugovoy explained. Litvinenko "had become an agent out of the secret services' control, so he was removed". 

London, of course, immediately denied all the Russian businessman's accusations and said that he was just muddying the waters with his revelations. As for Lugovoy's meetings with Litvinenko, there is nothing remarkable about them. The British media write "MI6 has the principle of never confirming or denying that anyone is working for them". The claim that MI6 despatched Litvinenko to the next world does not stand up as it does not explain MI6's motives. Why did they need to do it? Lugovoy gave no convincing answer to the question. At the same time, The Guardian newspaper, quoting sources in the special services, wrote that British intelligence agents "never made contact with Lugovoy". Official London, including representatives of the special services, made it clear that Litvinenko's murder is "a criminal matter that does not concern the intelligence services". Moscow made a similar statement: Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that attempts by certain circles in London to politicize the investigation into Litvinenko's murder had a negative effect on Russian-British relations. This all looks rather strange: if both sides do not want to mix politics and the special services, why is this criminal case, even if it is a particularly important one, causing so much fuss?


Theory No 2

Back to the list of possible murderers. Berezovskiy poisoned Litvinenko. "Knowing and analysing Alexander's behaviour in the latter months of 2006, I could not help seeing that he was disappointed both in Berezovskiy and in his British bosses," Lugovoy said at the 31 May press conference. It is worth noting that, although they did not take the claims seriously, many people were very curious about Lugovoy's comments on Berezovskiy. This is down to Boris Abramovich's notoriety for political chicanery. But the question remains why did he need to get Litvinenko out of his way? There are several suggestions on this score, one of which can stand alone as Theory No 3.


Theory No 3

Berezovskiy kills Litvinenko with the help of the British intelligence services in order to blame everything on Russian intelligence, damage Putin's reputation and put Moscow and London at odds. But this is not logical either: can the murder, however notorious, of a former FSB agent with a dubious reputation, even if he is a British citizen, seriously damage the image of the Russian president? Or did someone seriously hope that Great Britain would break off diplomatic relations with Russia over this? And why would London want to fall out so seriously with Russia? Berezovskiy himself denies his involvement with the British special services and claims that Lugovoy is acting on the Kremlin's orders. As proof that he is not involved in the crime, the disgraced oligarch even contributed a million dollars to the fund organized by Litvinenko's widow to find her husband's killers.

Another theory as to why Boris Abramovich had to get rid of his partner Litvinenko appears more convincing. The former FSB agent allegedly once told Kovtun that he had seriously compromising material on Berezovskiy. If only some of the documents were published, the businessman would not be able to avoid major problems, including extradition from the UK. In other words, not long before his death Litvinenko either intended to or had already started blackmailing Berezovskiy. Why? Supposedly because Berezovskiy had practically cut off Litvinenko, who was financially dependent on him. 

Initially, Professor Mario Scaramella was suspected of murdering Litvinenko. The Italian security expert had met Litvinenko on 1 November 2006 in London's Itsu sushi bar and was to have given him information about the murderers of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Scaramella later said that he had had with him that day "a list of people who were to be eliminated". Politkovskaya, who wrote many articles criticizing Russian government policy in Chechnya, was shot in October 2006 in Moscow. Alexander Litvinenko said at the time that he was beginning an investigation into her death. However, returning to the investigation of his own death, on 21 November it emerged that on 1 November Litvinenko (who died on 23 November) had met Lugovoy before his meeting with Scaramella. They met in a hotel for a cup of, what British investigators think was, polonium tea. 


Theory No 4

And so to the fourth theory: the Russian special services used Lugovoy to eliminate Litvinenko. The Times writes that "the Litvinenko case is the handiwork of Russian agents, carried out with obvious impunity". Moscow's refusal to extradite Lugovoy makes the British side certain of his guilt. The main evidence against the businessman is that traces of polonium-210 were left across London in the places that he visited before and after Litvinenko's poisoning. Litvinenko's widow, Marina Litvinenko, is convinced that Lugovoy is guilty and that he was acting on the instructions of the Russian special services. What is most interesting in this theory is Litvinenko's final letter which was read out to the British press after his death by Litvinenko's friend Alexander Goldfarb: "I think, therefore, that this may be the time to say one or two things to the person responsible for my present condition. You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed. You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilized value. You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilized men and women. 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. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people." The Russian president reacted quite calmly to the accusation. Speaking at a press conference in Helsinki at the end of an EU summit, he said that there were no grounds for the political speculation about the murder.


Theory No 5

This is not the end of the theories. There is Theory No 5. Lugovoy said at his press conference that Litvinenko could have fallen victim to the "Russian mafia" for assisting the Spanish police to catch crime boss Zakhariy Kalashov, known as Shakro Junior, thought to be the head of several criminal gangs. This theory makes one's blood run cold. How strong must the Russian mafia be if its Spanish branch is capable of destroying its enemies with the help of a rare radioactive substance! And not only destroy them but with masterful sleight of hand have the finger of guilt pointed at Putin himself! Brr! 


Theory No 6

That's not all. Theory No 6 sounds just as good in the spirit of James Bond and Hollywood thrillers. Supposedly, Litvinenko and Lugovoy, who were working for Berezovskiy (who had ordered a "dirty bomb" - a millionaire has to find his entertainment somewhere) made contact via Dmitriy Kovtun (a special services agent who was well placed amongst arms traders) with a faceless dealer who supplied polonium-210 as an accelerator component. However, the container lost its hermetic seal and Litvinenko received a fatal dose of radiation. Lugovoy and Kovtun escaped with a fright and pursuit by British justice. But Boris Abramovich is trying to make capital out of it and to turn his failure against the Kremlin.

So who did kill Litvinenko? This question does not have an answer, nor is it likely to. The Russian authorities are unlikely to agree to Lugovoy's extradition. This leaves the way open for speculation and a small key to the mystery mentioned at the start of this article - whoever killed Litvinenko benefits from the scandal and constant attention to the case.