British security services handed Alexander Litvinenko a confidential government document that summarised private meetings held with a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Independent has learnt.
MI6 allegedly asked the late spy to provide “expert analysis” on a four-page confidential Foreign Office report that detailed a visit to London in 2000 by Sergei Ivanov – who is now the second most powerful figure in the Kremlin.
The diplomatic telegraph – known as a “DipTel” and circulated to British embassies around the world – outlined private talks between Mr Ivanov – at the time Russia’s top security adviser – and UK intelligence officials in Downing Street, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence.
Mr Litvinenko’s relationship with British intelligence has been cited as a possible motive for his murder, and the documents provide fresh evidence of potentially close links between MI6 and the former KGB agent and arch-critic of President Putin. Mr Litvinenko fled Russia for Britain in November 2000 and died in 2006.
At the time of Mr Ivanov’s trip, between 30 October and 1 November 2000, London and Moscow were as close as they had been for decades. The visit was described as the “first meeting between such senior security officials from Britain and Russia”.
However, Britain’s decision to harbour Russian dissidents such as Mr Litvinenko angered President Putin, and relations deteriorated dramatically when the spy was poisoned soon after meeting two fellow former KGB agents at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair. The two spies, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, both deny involvement in his death and Russia has angered Whitehall by refusing to extradite them for questioning in the UK.
Sir Robert Owen, the coroner investigating Mr Litvinenko’s death, was due to publish some secret government documents which may have shed further light on the spy’s links to MI6 and Russia’s alleged role in his death. But he was overruled in the High Court on Wednesday after Foreign Secretary William Hague successfully won a judicial review of Sir Robert’s decision. Mr Justice Goldring concluded that publishing the documents could cause a “risk of significant damage to national security” and outweighed the need for a “full and proper” inquest.
The coroner is due to respond to the ruling later today. But the official restrictions on certain information relating to Mr Litvinenko have not prevented the late spy’s friend Yuri Felshtinsky revealing making more embarrassing claims.
In an updated version of Blowing Up Russia, which the Russian academic co-wrote with Mr Litvinenko in 2002, Mr Felstinsky wrote: “Among the many documents Alexander gave me in London in the beginning of 2003 was one that shows how close he had become to MI6. It relates to the visit of KGB-FSB general Sergei Ivanov to London.
“This four-page confidential document about the highly-sensitive visit ... was given to Alexander by MI6 for expert analysis.”
The Independent has seen the “Diptel” in question. The Foreign Office memo outlines UK officials’ thoughts of Mr Ivanov and an analysis of his positions on a range of topics, including global terrorism, Iran, China, and Nato.
Diplomats said the 60-year-old was “peddling the usual Russian arguments” on a range of subjects on which Moscow disagreed with London. The memo says Mr Ivanov “gave no ground on Iraq” and there was “no sign of a new approach to Chechnya”.
“(He) reiterated Russia’s negative view of Nato and saw little prospect of rapid improvement,” it reads. “Although he loosened up over dinner, claiming that Russia was not trying to split Nato and implying that part of the problem was the difficulty of bringing the military along”.
The Foreign Office noted “not much give on Iran” from Mr Ivanov, who “defended present Russian engagement and their involvement in nuclear co-operation” with the Islamic republic which was causing consternation in Western circles at the time.
During one dinner, a Russian official called “Chernov” is said to have launched a “diatribe” about the threat to “world security” posed by the internet. “He depicted the internet as the major global threat over the next 5-10 years,” the memo says. Mr Ivanov later described Russian media legislation as “one of the most liberal in the world”.
The memo reveals British officials said Mr Ivanov “came over well – serious and authoritative, but tinged with humour”, although the visit was marked by a “rigidity in the more formal meetings” and his juniors “were not encouraged to speculate”.
Speaking from his home in the US, Mr Felshtinsky, a Russian historian, said: “I do not know what Alex did with this document but he told me it was given to him by MI6. I met Alex with his handler once in Piccadilly. He was a very tall gentleman.”
Referring to the current legal impasse over the inquest, Mr Felshtinsky said: “I do not understand why there is a conspiracy of silence. Everyone knows Alex worked for MI6.”
Last year, the inquest into Mr Litvinenko’s death heard he was a “paid employee of MI6 with a dedicated handler whose pseudonym was Martin”. It was also alleged that the spy he was supplying Spanish intelligence with information on Russia mafia activity in Spain.
Blowing Up Russia alleges that the 1999 bombings in Moscow that were officially attributed to Chechen terrorists were actually committed by the Russian security services and used by Moscow to justify a war in Chechnya that helped bring Mr Putin to power.
In 2007, Mikhail Trepashkin, who conducted an independent review of the 1999 bombings, said his Russian intelligence sources had told him that “everyone who was involved in the publication of the book ‘Blowing up Russia’ will be killed”.
He also claimed three FSB agents made a trip to Boston to examine the possibility of assassinating Mr Felshtinsky. The Foreign Office declined to comment.
Sergei Ivanov: Hostile to the West, close to Putin
Sergei Ivanov is a veteran of Russia’s security establishment and an old friend of President Vladimir Putin.
The 60-year-old met Mr Putin in Leningrad, where the two became friends in the local branch of the KGB.
He worked in intelligence for 18 years, first in the KGB and then in Russia’s SVR foreign service, and was once allegedly expelled from Britain for spying activities.
Newspaper reports in Russia have claimed he also worked in Kenya with Vasily Kushchenko, the father of Anna Chapman, a Russian spy deported from the United States in 2010.
Mr Ivanov is often described as one of key “siloviki” – a group of conservative ex-spies that have prospered under Mr Putin and who are hostile to the West. However, some analysts believe he is more liberal and maintains a political balance between the hawks and doves inside the Kremlin.
Former President Boris Yeltsin appointed Mr Ivanov secretary of the Russian Security Council – placing him in charge of national security – in November 1999. In March 2001, Mr Ivanov became Russia’s first “civilian” Defence Minister.
Under Mr Putin he served as deputy Prime Minister and was tipped to become the next Russian President in 2008 before losing out to the liberal candidate, Dmitri Medvedev. However, Mr Ivanov became the latter’s chief-of-staff – and remained in his post when Mr Putin regained the presidency in 2012.
His oldest son, Alexander, struck and killed a 68-year-old woman while driving in 2005, though a criminal case against him was closed due to lack of evidence.
In December 2006, Mr Ivanov reportedly dismissed the importance of Mr Litvinenko’s death. He told foreign correspondents in Moscow: “For us, Litvinenko was nothing. We didn’t care what he said and what he wrote on his deathbed.”