Marina Litvinenko

Marina Litvinenko

UK judge: Putin ‘probably approved’ killing of ex-KGB agent

Almost a decade after former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko lay dying in a London hospital bed, a British judge has concluded who poisoned him: two Russian men, acting at the behest of Russia’s security services, probably with approval from President Vladimir Putin. That finding prompted sharp exchanges Thursday between London and Moscow, and a diplomatic dilemma for both countries. With Russia and the West inching closer together after years of strain, neither side wants a new feud — even over a state-sanctioned murder on British soil.

LONDON — Almost a decade after former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko lay dying in a London hospital bed, a British judge has concluded who poisoned him: two Russian men, acting at the behest of Russia’s security services, probably with approval from President Vladimir Putin.

That finding prompted sharp exchanges Thursday between London and Moscow, and a diplomatic dilemma for both countries. With Russia and the West inching closer together after years of strain, neither side wants a new feud — even over a state-sanctioned murder on British soil.

Judge Robert Owen, who led the public inquiry into the killing, said he was certain that two Russians with links to the security services had given Litvinenko green tea containing a fatal dose of radioactive polonium-210 during a meeting at a London hotel. He said there was a “strong probability” that Russia’s FSB, the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB spy agency, directed the killing and that the operation was “probably approved” by Putin, then as now the president of Russia.

Before he died, Litvinenko accused Putin of ordering his killing, but Owen’s report is the first public official statement linking the Russian president to the crime, and it sent a chilling jolt through U.K.-Russia relations.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the evidence in the report of “state-sponsored” killing was “absolutely appalling.” Britain summoned the Russian ambassador for a dressing-down and imposed an asset freeze on the two main suspects: Andrei Lugovoi, now a Russian lawmaker, and Dmitry Kovtun.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the involvement of the Russian state was “a blatant and unacceptable breach of the most fundamental tenets of international law and of civilized behaviour.”

Moscow has always strongly denied being involved in Litvinenko’s death and accused Britain of conducting a secretive and politically motivated inquiry.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the “quasi-investigation” would “further poison the atmosphere of our bilateral relations.”

He said the report “cannot be accepted by us as a verdict.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zhakarova said the British inquiry was neither public nor transparent, saying it had turned into a “shadow puppet theatre.”

“There was one goal from the beginning: slander Russia and slander its officials,” she told reporters in Moscow.

Litvinenko fled to Britain in 2000 and became a critic of Russia’s security services and of Putin, whom he accused of links to organized crime and other alleged transgressions including pedophilia, Owen said in the report. He was a very vocal annoyance, feeding inside information about Russia’s secrets to Western intelligence services, and — the judge said — was widely regarded within the FSB as a traitor.

“There were powerful motives for organizations and individuals within the Russian state to take action against Mr. Litvinenko, including killing him,” Owen wrote in the 326-page report.

The judge said the case for Russian state involvement was circumstantial but strong. Owen said Litvinenko had “personally targeted President Putin himself with highly personal public criticism,” allied himself with Putin’s opponents and was believed to be working for British intelligence.

Litvinenko had co-written a book in which he blamed former FSB superiors of carrying out bombings of Russian apartment buildings in 1999 that were blamed on Chechen militants. He also accused Putin of being behind the 2006 contract-style slaying of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who exposed human rights abuses in Chechnya.

Owen said the method of killing, with radioactive poison, fit with the deaths of several other opponents of Putin and his government, and noted that Putin had “supported and protected” Lugovoi since the killing, even awarding him a medal for service to the nation.

“I am sure that Mr. Lugovoi and Mr. Kovtun placed the polonium-210 in the teapot at the Pine Bar on 1 November 2006,” he wrote — probably under the direction of the FSB.

He said the operation to kill Litvinenko was “probably” approved by then-FSB head Nikolai Patrushev, now head of Putin’s security council. He said it was “likely” the FSB chief would have sought Putin’s approval for an operation to kill Litvinenko.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File photo
Gov’t of Alberta identifies estimated 300 new COVID-19 cases Sunday

Online COVID-19 dashboard unavailable as upgrades being completed

The Central Alberta Freestyle Ski Club is hoping to win $50,000 through the Mackenzie Investments Top Peak contest. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta ski club trying to win $50K in online contest

A central Alberta ski club has entered a contest where it can… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

Ben King scores for the Red Deer Rebels during the third period of a Western Hockey League game against the Calgary Hitmen at the Westerner Park Centrium Saturday. (Photo by Rob Wallator/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels complete comeback to pick up first win of season

Rebels 3 Hitmen 2 (OT) The Red Deer Rebels were able to… Continue reading

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan takes part in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa on December 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives to call top Sajjan, Trudeau aides to testify on Vance allegations

OTTAWA — The federal Conservatives plan to summon two senior Liberal aides… Continue reading

Elvira D'Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Several provinces were preparing to loosen COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday, as Canada’s… Continue reading

Mount Pearl Senior High in Mount Pearl, N.L., remains closed on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The provincial health authority says there were 185 cases at 22 schools, including 145 infections among staff and students of one high school in Mount Pearl that was an early epicentre of the outbreak. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly
In Newfoundland and Labrador, three ingredients made for explosive COVID-19 outbreak

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — With her classes, three part-time jobs and a… Continue reading

A passenger places a tag on luggage at the departure terminal at Toronto Pearson Airport, in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, May 24, 2019. The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many recent immigrants to leave Canada and return to their countries of origin, where they have more social and familial connections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
COVID-19 pandemic prompts recent newcomers to leave Canada for their home countries

OTTAWA — The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic… Continue reading

Rail cars wait for pickup in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 23, 2014. The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian oil and gas on trains destined for the United States — a country experts fear is ill-equipped for the potential consequences. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
As debate rages over cross-border pipelines, U.S. analysts brace for more oil by rail

WASHINGTON — The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian… Continue reading

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

VICTORIA — Legal experts and a mother whose ex-partner was convicted of… Continue reading

Radio and television personality Dick Smyth is shown in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Dick Smyth, Canadian maestro of news radio commentary, dies at 86

TORONTO — Radio and television personality Dick Smyth, whose booming commentary filled… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

Most Read