News / Europe

    British Judge: Putin 'Probably' OK'd Ex-Spy's Murder

    Marina Litvinenko Reacts to British Report on Husband's Deathi
    January 21, 2016 1:02 PM
    Marina Litvinenko, widow of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, speaks to reporters in London, Jan. 21, 2016.
    Marina Litvinenko reacts to British report on husband's death, Jan. 21, 2016.


    Luis Ramirez

    A top British government investigator said Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin probably personally approved the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian spy-turned-dissident who was exiled in Britain after criticizing Putin and accusing him — among other things — of being a pedophile.
    Robert Owen, a retired judge serving as the inquiry's chairman, announced that his yearlong inquiry had confirmed the Russian state was responsible for the November 2006 poisoning of Litvinenko, carried out by two Russian agents at the Millennium hotel in central London just a few meters from the U.S. Embassy.

    For nearly nine years since her husband's death, Marina Litvinenko has been demanding answers. Thursday brought some vindication for her. Speaking to reporters outside the Royal Courts in London, she said she was "of course very pleased" by the outcome. "The words my husband spoke on his deathbed when he accused Mr. Putin of his murder have been proved true in an English court with a high standard of independence and fairness,”she said.


    • Highly radioactive
    • Toxic if it enters the body by eating, breathing or through a wound
    • Occurs naturally and is present in the environment in low concentrations
    • Releases a great deal of energy
    • Was discovered by Marie Sklodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie in 1898
    • Historically called radium F, is very hard for doctors to identify

    Source: IAEA

    In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zhakarova said, "We regret that a purely criminal case has been politicized and has darkened the general atmosphere of bilateral relations.''
    In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the case showed Russia's "willingness to flout basic conventions around human rights and free speech" and that the worrisome "political environment that currently exists in Russia seems to also extend, at least in some occasions, beyond Russia's borders."

    He said the White House wouldn't rule out "relevant future steps" to address some of the concerns raised by the findings of the inquiry.

    Back story

    Litvinenko was an agent of the Russian Federal Security Service, the spy agency that came after the Soviet-era KGB. But after becoming an outspoken critic of Putin in 1998, he fled Russia and sought asylum in Britain.

    He continued to anger the Kremlin with criticism of Putin that included personal attacks, such as an article in which he accused the Russian leader of being a pedophile. The Kremlin rejected the accusation.

    FILE - Alexander Litvinenko (2002 photo)
    FILE - Alexander Litvinenko (2002 photo)

    In early November 2006, Litvinenko agreed to meet with Russian agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, who British officials say laced his tea with radioactive polonium, a substance experts say is made in Russia. Lugovoi and Kovtun returned to Russia.

    Litvinenko quickly became ill and died at a hospital 23 days later. Photos of him on his deathbed show him emaciated and having lost his hair. His wife said he asked to be photographed to show "what Putin had done to him."

    With radioactive contamination spreading from the hotel to the streets of London, investigators described it as a nuclear attack in the heart of England's capital that put its population at risk.

    FILE - A man looks at a portrait of ex-spy Andrei Litvinenko by Russian artists Dmitry Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeyeva in the Marat Guelman gallery in Moscow.
    FILE - A man looks at a portrait of ex-spy Andrei Litvinenko by Russian artists Dmitry Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeyeva in the Marat Guelman gallery in Moscow.

    Widow demands expulsion, sanctions

    Litvinenko's widow on Thursday called for all Russian intelligence operatives to be expelled from Britain, and she, like some British lawmakers, said she wanted sanctions imposed against individuals named as culprits in the inquiry.

    "I received a letter last night from the home secretary promising action. It is unthinkable that the prime minister would do nothing in the face of damaging findings of Sir Robert Owen," Marina Litvinenko told reporters.

    Prime Minister David Cameron's spokeswoman said that he found the findings "extremely disturbing" and that the government was considering what actions to take.

    "It is not the way for any state, let alone a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, to behave," the spokeswoman said. "Regrettably, these findings confirm what we and previous governments believed."

    WATCH: British Home Secretary Theresa May reacts to Litvinenko inquiry

    British Home Secretary Reacts to Litvinenko Inquiryi
    January 21, 2016 2:30 PM
    British Home Secretary Theresa May reacts to the report on the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, Jan. 21, 2016.

    Action by Britain unlikely

    Britain has strong economic ties to Russia and is eager to recruit Putin’s help in ending the crisis in Syria. Analysts say those factors make it unlikely that leaders here will take any action that will threaten the wider relationship over the killing of one foreign former spy by two others.

    London financier Bill Browder, a human rights campaigner and Putin critic, spoke out against what he said was the British government's reluctance to punish the Russian leader for Litvinenko's slaying.

    “I can’t get inside the minds of the government officials but I can speculate, and what I would speculate is that it comes down to money. There’s a lot of Russian money sloshing around London, and I believe that there’s a concern among certain members of the government that that money would be less available if Britain took a moral stand on some of these issues,” Browder, the CEO and co-founder of investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, told VOA.  "Today’s response, as it stands right now from the British government, is a green light for him [Putin] to carry on doing murders, invasions and other atrocities without any consequences."

    One battle has ended for Marina Litvinenko, but another has just begun.

    VOA Moscow correspondent Daniel Schearf and Chris Hannas in Washington contributed to this report.

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    Comment Sorting
    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    January 22, 2016 4:25 AM
    Let's call a spade a spade. The Putin Regime which is the KGB's instrument of direct power is not a normal government but a criminal enterprise. At least it does not have an underlying theological or political dogma the way ISIL and communism did. It wants power but it also wants to live. It is interested in this life, not the next and it is not out to transform the world the way communists were.

    This is the only reason we have to hope Putin will not blow up the world but we are not dealing here with a rational man who has any trace of morality at all. Instead we are dealing with a cold blooded pathological mass murderer. He belongs in an insane asylum. Will the world survive him and will his successor be any better? Russians who support him are fools. He has put not just their well being but their very lives at risk. I have no doubt that he is capable of launching WWIII.

    by: KoreyD from: Canada
    January 21, 2016 5:38 PM
    Gee and I thought only America assasinated it's own citizens without due process. Of course they use drones, much less painful

    by: Anonymous
    January 21, 2016 3:14 PM
    A positively Shakespearian tragedy, with all that entails.

    by: Anonymous
    January 21, 2016 3:03 PM
    No 'probably' about it.

    The overly politically correct British are terrified of little Vladdy because he is a murderous little bastard with no conscience. A high functioning sociopath with enough raw material for an entire psychiatric conference to study in depth.

    As usual, the Brits are going to do nothing and debate this case until it goes away, without doing one damned thing about it. They are gutless worms.

    Litvinenko's murder is one of the many little Vladdy orchestrated, only God knows just how many others we don't yet know about. Putin is not a great man, he is a murdering swine, a despicable sub-human malignancy. Nothing less.

    In Response

    by: Allan from: Scotland
    January 22, 2016 12:03 AM
    No the Brits are not afraid of Putin.
    If they had something they would have revealed it.

    The Brits are afraid of the Saudis and the Turks, their paymasters.

    That's why Cameron is trying hard to hide the Saudi and Turkish crimes around the world.

    by: Anonymous
    January 21, 2016 11:29 AM
    Can this be a court ruling by a Judge and the court?
    "Probably OK-ed"?!
    Wasn't this a fact finding process? Is this how desperate these people are to get to Putin?
    In Response

    by: Ejetavwo from: Nigeria
    January 21, 2016 11:13 PM
    I cannot but agree with your opinion. -There is nothing new or weighty to attach to this speculative findings. If British money was spent on this investigation, it was indeed a waste. Besides, we have heard of the royal elimination of Princess Diana and it was covered by the British govt. Not to talk of the numerous US killings of their citizens to protect their state. Now fire is calling kettle black.

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    January 21, 2016 11:23 AM
    Funny how Putin's critics and political opponents keep winding up dead. This has been a British coverup from day one. Yes there undoubtedly is a lot of crooked Russian money floating around in Britain with its crooked banks only too happy to launder it. Why should bought and paid for government ruin a good thing over the assassination of a former KGB agent? Like the rest of Europe, Britain is entirely unprincipled and its population entirely passive.

    Russia is not helping anyone but itself in Syria. It is bombing the legitimate rebels to give the US a choice between two unpalatable alternatives, ISIL and Assad. Britain's contribution to the war against ISIL has also been negligible.

    Does Putin have to tell or approve what his lieutenants do to his enemies or do they just know instinctively and go out and do it? Is he a Mafia Don or Adolf Hitler? Is there a difference. And who does America want as its next president sitting across the table confronting him? Who is strong enough not to be taken in?

    by: trespassers w from: ill be shot
    January 21, 2016 8:09 AM
    Nothing new. No facts and evidence. Only some emotional unfounded expected accusations. If it is competent credible investigation and the court, then I'm the son of Obama. Such findings and conclusions could declare the day after Litvinenko's death, or even while he was alive.

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