Revisiting Litvinenko Murder 10 Years Later

Alexander Litvinenko
Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with radionuclide polonium-210 and eventually died. Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from WikimediaWikimedia, Antoniorosset / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0) and Cory Doctorow / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

It’s too early to tell if the Donald Trump era will bring about vindictive acts against political opponents, but it is troubling that his main advocate among foreign heads of state – Russia’s Vladimir Putin – has been accused of just such actions.

It was 10 years ago today, Nov. 23, 2006, that former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died in London from radiation poisoning. Suspicion that Putin ordered the murder of his harshest critic was rampant from the start, and only grew with the release of a public inquiry report earlier this year concluding that it was “probably approved” by the Russian president.

Litvinenko fled with his family to the United Kingdom shortly after enduring two arrests in Russia in 1999 and 2000 on charges of exceeding the authority of his position. This stemmed from his outspoken criticism of Putin and Russian FSB policy, including allegations of the state-sponsored murder of Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

On the day of his poisoning, there was speculation that Litvinenko – then an author and British intelligence consultant – was being shown documents proving who murdered Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya a month earlier.

The use of the radioactive substance polonium-210 for assassination was the first of its kind, and results in slow, agonizing death. It was “at the very least a strong indicator of state involvement” as it had to have been created in a nuclear reactor, according to The Litvinenko Inquiry, chaired by Sir Robert Owen and released in January.

Relations between Russia and Britain cooled for several years after the brazen killing. This climate thawed a bit in 2010 with the transition of power in the UK from Gordon Brown to David Cameron, and the need for cooperation regarding the Syrian crisis.

Stories like these only fueled the worst suspicions that Western pundits have aimed at Russian KGB/FSB machinations for decades. Curious, then, that right wing hawks in Washington would link arms with the Kremlin — or at least ignore the mounting evidence of state-sponsored murder – in order to get an authoritarian like Donald Trump elected.

One can only hope the president-elect, despite his overt disdain for the press and those disloyal to his agenda, hasn’t taken the blueprint provided for silencing dissent here in the Land of the Free.

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  • Robin

    Have been doing some reading about Katrina, & Brown’s incompetence at FEMA because under Trump there’s the distinct possibility there will be many Katrinas… massive natural disasters followed by incompetent responses by Federal Government, and many preventable and tragic deaths. Mr. Baker’s in-depth reporting on Allbaugh and Brown is much appreciated. I had no idea of the depth of the cronyism. I mean, every political party engages in cronyism… but at least Democrats try to find COMPETENT cronies.

    This article ends up being interesting because I only just stumbled on a BBC piece on Vladislav Surkov who has used fake news, political theater, and chaos to keep the Russian public uninformed and disoriented while their ruling oligarchs keep hidden behind the smokescreen.

    It seems to me that the Far Right in America, and England and elsewhere in Europe is fine with working with Putin’s intelligence to kneecap opposition. They also seem to be learning how to use their techniques of manipulating public opinion and harnessing White Supremacy. Steve Bannon seems to part of problem. And he’s opening up multiple Breitbarts in Europe. The influx of fake news seems unstoppable, especially with Trump tweeting outright lies to his supporters.

    I’ve always said Republicans really wanted to establish a Russian-style state here; a managed state with a façade of Democracy. I can only hope the willingness to work across national boundaries and embrace the Russian model isn’t shared by the entire Republican party. And sadly the people who vote Republican simply befuddled by FOX and Breitbart. Many are probably sympathetic to Authoritarianism anyway.

    Reading this article has me feeling even more uneasy. Because it may just be that oligarchs ARE already moved beyond national boundaries and interests and working together with Russia as its model. One antidote to this is to come up with a few simple narratives – those who support participatory Democracy can use. Unions need to step into the 21st century.

    • Jeff Clyburn

      Strange bedfellows, indeed – the modern GOP and the Kremlin. … For 100 years,conservatives poured all their resources into telling us Russia was basically Mordor, only to go dead silent as the campaign trail wore on and Putin was helping Trump.

      Imagine for one second that Putin helped Obama get elected. What would US arch-conservatives have said about that?

  • Solid Centre

    So in the UK Litvinenko was an ‘an author and British intelligence consultant’. Is this not treachery if he had taken a loyalty oath as a Russian intelligence officer? He was playing a dangerous game. Reminds me of the Phillip Agee story. Didn’t George HW Bush (ex CIA director) try to have Agee killed? Regards polonium, didn’t Mossad kill Arafat with polonium? Just asking.

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