Feature

Who poisoned a dissident spy?

The week's news at a glance.

Russia

A Cold War spy novel has tragically come to life, said Cahal Milmo in London’s Independent. Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian intelligence agent who defected to Britain after accusing his bosses of hideous crimes, is fighting for his life in a London hospital, the victim of thallium poisoning. “He looks like a cancer patient who went through heavy chemotherapy,” said his friend Alex Goldfarb, a Briton who helped Litvinenko defect. “And just a month ago, he was a fit, young, handsome guy.” Litvinenko, 44, first angered the Kremlin with allegations that his superiors at the FSB—the new name for the KGB—had ordered him to assassinate oligarch Boris Berezovsky. In 2000, he defected to Britain and wrote a book claiming the FSB was behind the 1999 Moscow bombings that killed nearly 300 people. Those bombings were blamed on Chechens and provided President Vladimir Putin with the pretext for the second Chechen war.

Litvinenko is sure the FSB poisoned him, said Andrey Kuznetsov in the Russian Web magazine Lenta.ru. In the only interview he was able to give before his throat swelled so badly that he could no longer talk, he said that some of his former colleagues, FSB agents still in Russia, had warned him: “They’re out to get you.” Other Russian defectors agree. Berezovsky, a Putin foe who became a British citizen several years before Litvinenko, and Oleg Gordievsky, the highest-ranking Soviet KGB agent to defect, are both convinced that Litvinenko was poisoned by a Russian with whom he met on Nov. 1.

The British press is also convinced that the Kremlin did it, said Andrey Yashlavsky in Moskovsky Komsomolets. British newspapers are brimming with stories about old KGB tactics, dredging up every rumor from the Soviet era. Articles describe in breathless detail just how rare thallium is (“banned from use in rat poison and insecticides for years”) and how easy it is to administer (“Odorless, colorless, tasteless, the metal can even be transmitted through the skin”). This rush to judge Russia despite the Kremlin’s firm, outraged denials could cause a diplomatic rift.

Now the U.S. is getting involved, said Xenia Solnyaskaya in the Russian Web magazine Gazeta.ru. American authorities are interested in a possible link to the October murder of reporter Anna Politkovskaya, a dual Russian and American citizen. The same day that Litvinenko met with the Russian, he also met with an Italian, Mario Scaramella. Scaramella said that he had information about Politkovskaya’s murder to pass along and feared for his life. Now poor Scaramella is in hiding, protected by British and Italian authorities. “Apparently, American interest in this business centers on Litvinenko’s investigations into Anna’s murder.” The State Department has asked the Brits to keep it informed. If a connection between the murder and the poisoning is established, it could reignite the Cold War.

Yulia Latynina

Ekho Moskvy

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