The Litvinenko files: Was he really murdered?

His gruesome and very public death shocked the world – and threw London and Moscow into their worst diplomatic crisis since the Cold War. But 18 months on, Mary Dejevsky argues we're still not being told the whole, chilling story

Friday 02 May 2008 00:00 BST

Alexander Litvinenko died on 23 November 2006, after a mysterious and painful illness. The cause was identified, less than two hours before his death, by scientists at the British government's Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston. They found that he had been poisoned, with the radioactive isotope polonium-210.

The diagnosis came too late for an antidote to be administered. But the victim, who had been a hale and hearty 44-year-old only four weeks before, had time to authorise a thunderous deathbed statement in which he accused Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, of ordering his murder.

Litvinenko's very public suffering, complete with ghoulish photographs and daily bulletins, was chronicled (with rather too much relish for my taste) by Alex Goldfarb, a former Russian human rights activist and friend of Litvinenko. As it happened, his macabre one-man show outside London's University College Hospital coincided with the release of the latest James Bond film, Casino Royale. Everything contrived to raise the fearsome cold-war stereotypes of Russia that lurk fractionally below the genteel surface of British opinion. Russia was suddenly back in vogue, in the most convincingly negative way.

From there, it was but an elegant diplomatic one-step to the authorised British version of the "Litvinenko affair". During his almost six years in London, this former Soviet and Russian intelligence officer had become an increasingly outspoken foe of President Putin. His dramatic deathbed "J'accuse" served posthumously as indictment and proof of Kremlin complicity.

The polonium clinched it. Only Russia, it was said, had the capacity to produce polonium-210. The lab, even the date of production, could easily be identified. And if anyone asked why, of all substances available to potential assassins, the choice had fallen on polonium, the answer came back pat: it was in the confident expectation that the cause of death would never be diagnosed.

In the unlikely event that the British public still harboured the odd doubt, there were only a few weeks to wait for a fall guy. The presumed assassin hove into view right on cue: Andrei Lugovoi, another former KGB agent and security consultant, had left a radioactive trail all over aircraft, offices and hotels. In late May, 2007 – by which time he was safely back in Russia – the British submitted a formal request for his extradition. That the Russians turned it down flat only completed the familiar picture. Russia was guilty; guilty as hell.

Now, maybe the simple and obvious explanation is the correct one. Maybe Putin, a former KGB man – "once a chekist, always a chekist", as the saying goes (Lenin's Cheka was the forerunner of the KGB) – had personally issued the order to punish Litvinenko as the traitor that, in his eyes, he undoubtedly was. If you think it a stretch to believe that Putin himself commissioned the dirty deed, how about a splinter group of resentful erstwhile KGB colleagues?

Nor need the motive stop there. Litvinenko fell ill the day after he was granted British citizenship. Might his killer(s) not have had a supplementary purpose: to use this very public, lingering death to scare Britain's most outspoken Russian exiles into leaving, or at least keeping their anti-Putin thoughts quiet?

The explanation is neat, self-contained and entirely plausible. But is it the truth, or anything like the truth? You do not have to be a Le Carré to see espionage and exile as fertile fields for deception. The most straightforward story may turn out to contain hidden depths or be built on shifting sand. And there were early signs – not least in the speed with which the official British version became set in diplomatic aspic – that there might have been more to the affair than met the eye.

The first people to articulate doubts, characteristically, were the myriad conspiracists of the blogosphere – which was useful to peddlers of the official view in that it helped to discredit more substantial doubters. Over the months, however, alternative versions have grown in consistency and authority to the point where they now deserve a serious hearing.

Contributions have been made by individuals who patently know what they are talking about – whether it is the science of radiation, the byways of espionage or the incestuous milieu of exiled Russians. Locked out of the mainstream media as irresponsible fantasists, they have turned to the alternative media, or to blogs.

The most recent and, to my mind, most persuasive, piece of revisionism managed, just, to cross the bridge to the mainstream. A long and detailed article by the veteran US investigative journalist, Edward Jay Epstein, it was printed in The New York Sun (19 March 2008) and has been avidly read and critiqued on the internet. So far as I am aware, this article has not been published in Britain, but that has not prevented it being dismissed as inconsequential.

It was referred to contemptuously by Litvinenko's widow, Marina, in an article that appeared recently (27 March) under her name in The Times. She tossed it off as a piece printed "in a third-rate New York newspaper" written by a "fringe American journalist". The thrust of her article was a call for a public inquest into her husband's death. But the timing of its publication, soon after the appearance of Epstein's investigative tour de force, suggests that a pre-emptive trashing of his thesis was at least part of the reason why she put pen to paper when she did.

I have a great deal of time for Marina Litvinenko. She has suffered her extraordinary, and in many ways tragic, predicament with immense dignity and forbearance. Her romance with Alexander, whom she describes as the love of her life, had lasted 16 years, and was ended brutally. She comes across as utterly honest and sincere. She is all of a piece and she does not adapt either her manner or her story according to the audience.

In one way, however, she may not be the most useful witness. What she actually knew about her husband's work, either in Russia or after they fled to Britain, appears not to be a great deal. As someone who found love relatively late in life, she says, she saw it as her role to make her husband's complicated life easier in whatever way she could. A former dance teacher, petite and elegant, she professes to have taken no part, nor even exercised any curiosity about, what his work in exile entailed.

She does say, though, that he was often homesick, adapted poorly to life abroad and spent much time watching Russian television news and videos of old Russian films. She hints, too, that he had a difficult side. As she tells it, he could be dogmatic, tending to see the world in black and white. In Russia, she says – and again, this would fit his character – his work was on the policing side of the intelligence services, and focused on investigating the organised crime that burgeoned in the 1990s.

He also served in the border region adjacent to Chechnya – that was where he had grown up – and helped recruit informers from among anti-Russian Chechen fighters. Marina says he was not trained in espionage, nor did he ever work as a secret agent – by which I think she means he was never a cold-war-style spy. She saw him, rather, as a painstaking and dedicated seeker after truth.

She also presents him as a stickler for the law, and cites his adamant refusal to let her drive the family car before she had passed her British driving test, even though she had a Russian licence. He would do nothing, she said, absolutely nothing, that might put the family on the wrong side of the law of the land that had given them refuge.

Yet Edward Jay Epstein is not someone whose journalism should be dismissed lightly. He is, to be sure, something of a professional sceptic, but that does not make him wrong. He has in the past exposed stories published in The New York Times as having been essentially dictated by the political establishment. How right he was about the cosy relationship between that venerable newspaper and the Administration was evident from its obsequious coverage of Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction – a humungous error that eventually produced an abject apology.

No one in the journalistic world would deny that Epstein's investigative pedigree is serious or that he has an ear for "spin" and disinformation.

In compiling his article for The New York Sun – and the more exhaustive material that appears on his website – he interviewed dozens of people and delved into the scientific aspects of the case. In what was a considerable coup, he also went to Moscow, where he was allowed to see the extradition papers submitted by the British for their chief suspect, Andrei Lugovoi. These are documents that no one in Britain has seen, not even Litvinenko's widow.

Marina, not unreasonably, resents this, and regards Epstein's expedition as a Russian propaganda ploy. She says he was "invited" to Moscow on the understanding that his article would be supportive of the Russian view.

The Russians may well have been kindly disposed towards Epstein as a sceptic of the conventional wisdom. But he tells the story of his Moscow trip rather differently. He says that it took much persistence to get to Russia, and then to gain access to the papers. As for being invited, most foreigners need an invitation from a Russian institution to obtain a visa, so Marina's point may be technically true without implying anything about Epstein's objectivity.

What he says struck him above all about the papers was the flimsiness of the British case and the lack of even a post-mortem report. In that respect, Marina may have a point about his pro-Russian sympathies. But it is the theory he eventually gravitates towards to which Marina Litvinenko so takes exception.

This is that Alexander poisoned himself while handling radioactive material. Epstein posits that Litvinenko was poisoned by accident – the post mortem, he says, would have determined whether he ingested the polonium-210 or inhaled it. Part of his thesis is that the isotope had been smuggled to London not to murder someone, but as part of an illegal nuclear transaction.

Marina's refusal to entertain such a theory is understandable. As she says, "I have to protect my husband's good name." The husband she knew was faithful, honest and law-abiding to a fault. The very notion that he would be involved in illicit, not to mention highly dangerous, dealings seems to her alien in the extreme.

It is partly to quash such speculation that she is pressing, through her solicitor – the respected human rights lawyer, Louise Christian – for a full inquest into her husband's death. If she cannot have justice, she says, she deserves at least the truth.

The British authorities do not seem to be exactly rushing to hold an inquest, even though the last agony of Litvinenko, a Russian exile who had just become a British national, must surely qualify as one of the most shocking deaths to have occurred in the capital for years. The delay can be explained by a technicality: if a prosecution is in prospect, then an inquest is not held until afterwards, because all relevant questions might be cleared up by a trial.

On her client's behalf, Christian is categorical about what makes an inquest imperative. There was, she says, a "massive breach of security". A lethal radioactive substance was brought into the country "for a terrorist purpose.... Not only Litvinenko was contaminated, but other individuals as well". It is vital, she says, that lessons are learnt – and for that it needs to be established where the polonium was produced, how it came into the country, and how it was subsequently spread around.

It is up to the St Pancras coroner, as this is the jurisdiction that University College Hospital comes under, whether and when an inquest is held. And while coroners officially enjoy substantial independence, there are points where political pressure can be exerted. So the more time that elapses without an inquest being scheduled into one of London's most high-profile deaths, the more the delay looks suspicious. After all, if the case is as cut and dried as the British government has consistently made out, what has anyone possibly to lose?

The answer, if the persistent digging of informed sceptics, such as Epstein, has come anywhere near the truth, could be an awful lot.

Consider the questions that remain open almost 18 months after Litvinenko's death. There are a great many of them; some overlap, but they are roughly divisible into five clusters.

The most obvious relate to the polonium-210 that was identified as the cause of his illness just before he died. Then there is the role of Andrei Lugovoi. The Crown Prosecution Service says it has enough evidence to charge with murder, but the only third party to have seen the papers, Edward Epstein, says the case is extremely thin. Third, there are the mysterious activities of Litvinenko himself. The fourth cluster of questions concerns the part, if any, played by the British secret services, and, last, the role of the exiled Russian oligarch, the enigmatic Boris Berezovsky.

For the sake of clarity, I will deal with these groups of questions one by one.


The accepted wisdom has been that polonium-210 is produced only in Russia and that the particular laboratory, its jurisdiction and so the identity of the organisation that gave the crucial order, would be easily identified. Since then, no names have been named, even though the "right" answers should surely bolster the British contention that Russia, or the former KGB, was behind the killing.

Unofficially, the Avangard plant at Sarov, east of Moscow, is thought the likely source. So why have British officials not named it? One explanation is that the police are holding back such details for fear of jeopardising the accused's chance of a fair trial. Given that a trial now seems such a remote prospect, though, it is hard to see why this information is still not in the public domain. Another explanation might be that the answers do not fit the favoured theory.

What is certain is that Russia is not the only producer of polonium-210. Epstein (among others) reports that, while Russia produces it for export to the United States (!), any country with a nuclear reactor not subject to IAEA inspection can produce it – they include China, Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea. So the consolation that there is only Russia to worry about is flat wrong.

But there is another, and perhaps bigger, problem. Scientists who know anything about polonium-210 find it hard to believe that anyone would choose it as a murder weapon against one individual, even if the purpose was to evade detection. For a start, it is extremely expensive. But it also fits much more comfortably into another scenario: that of nuclear smuggling. It seems far more likely that the polonium tracked in London was part of some sort of deal – a deal that, for whatever reason, went disastrously wrong.

Demand for polonium-210 on the illegal international market is as a key element in detonating a nuclear explosion. This is why it commands such a fantastically high price – hundreds of thousands, if not the many millions, of dollars mentioned by some. Money, and even nuclear terrorism, thus emerge as plausible motives to compete with the theory of a Putin-inspired political assassination. Either would entail embarrassment for the British authorities, for it would suggest that illegal nuclear trafficking was going on under their very noses, with all the attendant dangers to the population. It also raises the question of border security. The small matter of how such a lethal substance got into the country pertains, of course, regardless of its intended purpose. So far, however, this crucial question has been successfully muffled by the horror of the presumed crime and the blanket allegation that "the Russians did it".


The second cluster of questions relates to Andrei Lugovoi, charged in Britain with Litvinenko's murder. A former KGB agent with his own security company, he was singled out from the radiation trail left on several planes and at various locations in London. This trail was also used to determine that the poisoning took place at the Pine Bar at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair and that the polonium was disguised in a cup of tea. Despite the familiarity of this version, practically every element of it raises doubts.

The sequence of meetings and flights that established Lugovoi as the original carrier of the polonium has been convincingly challenged. The British – Epstein and others have suggested – have omitted details of flights and contaminated sites that would contradict the thesis that the polonium originated with Lugovoi.

Counter-theories make Litvinenko himself the centre, and source, of the contamination. They track the radiation trail first from London, rather than Russia. They also note that one of the properties reported (by The Independent, 26 January 2007) as contaminated – an office building at 25 Grosvenor Street in Mayfair, does not figure in the official trail. It is an office building believed to be owned by Boris Berezovsky.

Some of the most persistent doubts about the fingering of Lugovoi centre on the meeting in the Pine Bar. Lugovoi – of whose account more later – sees this encounter as a set-up designed to frame him. He says that Litvinenko dropped in only briefly and that no tea was ordered or drunk. Lugovoi also notes that no CCTV footage has ever been produced to prove the Pine Bar/contaminated tea story, even though the place bristled with cameras.

The closest thing to evidence was a story that appeared out of the blue in the British press a full seven months later, identifying the waiter who supposedly served the tea. This has all the hallmarks of an effort to shore up a version teetering on the brink of collapse.

If there was any deliberate poisoning – by tea, or any other substance – the most plausible venue appears to be a room at the same hotel where the two met earlier that same day (1 November). But the two had met on two previous occasions as well: two weeks before at another hotel, and in August at Litvinenko's home. There is nothing, however, to prove conclusively who poisoned whom – nor to disprove the theory that Litvinenko might somehow have been poisoned by mistake.

Lugovoi has, of course, strenuously denied that he was the assassin – and, of course, he would, wouldn't he? I would argue, though, that what he had to say when he gave his first Moscow press conference (31 May 2007), and repeated at a later appearance (29 August 2007) held largely for the British media, does not necessarily deserve to be dismissed as fabrication.

On both occasions, Lugovoi appears cocky – but this does not prove he is lying. What also impresses is his spontaneity and the consistency of the detail under questioning. His account of approaches from MI6 and meetings with named agents at a New Cavendish Street address – have a ring of truth. It is worth noting, too, that none of the details has been denied by any branch of the British authorities. The have preferred the time-honoured tactic of ridicule.

As Lugovoi tells it, a long, calculated effort was made by MI6 to recruit him – an effort he eventually rebuffed. He said they wanted him to pass on intelligence and dish the dirt on Putin. He also says that after Litvinenko died, he "cooperated with the Crown Prosecutor's office and answered every question. I also answered all the questions that the Scotland Yard investigators asked me." There has been no denial of this from either the CPS or the Met. Would a murderer be so cooperative?

Lugovoi's central defence, however, is lack of motive. "Just think of it," he says. "They have found a Russian James Bond, who has access to nuclear plants and poisons a friend in cold blood, and, in so doing, poisons himself, his friends, his children and his wife.... Then, as a result, he loses his business and clients. The main question is what for? Where is the motive for my crime?" For the record, Lugovoi's lack of motive is something that also worries Litvinenko's widow.

What we have here, then, is a chief suspect with no motive, who may not have been the source of the polonium, and who says he was set up by MI6. If this last point is true, then there may be other reasons why he has been accused – and why the British might not want him in a London witness box.

This could explain something else that has long been a mystery to me. I always found it difficult to believe that the British ever seriously expected to obtain Lugovoi's extradition, especially against a Russian constitutional provision that expressly protects Russian nationals against being delivered to a foreign country. I never understood, either, why the British were so furious about Russia's non-compliance that almost the first act of David Miliband as Foreign Secretary was to up the ante by expelling four Russian diplomats.

British official fury becomes more much more comprehensible, however, if Lugovoi's real crime in their eyes was not to have killed Litvinenko, but to have fled the clutches of British intelligence – with, perhaps, information valuable enough to buy his safety back home. Fast-tracked into the Russian parliament last December, he now enjoys immunity not only from extradition, but from prosecution in his own country.

In sum, there are plenty of reasons not to accept the accusations against Andrei Lugovoi at face value.


The authorised British version is that Alexander Litvinenko was a political refugee who paid the ultimate price for his vocal opposition to Putin. The more that emerges about him, however, the more complicated his life seems to have been.

Mystery surrounds precisely how Litvinenko occupied himself when he was not at home watching old videos. He and his family received a house and an income from Boris Berezovsky's charitable foundation, but it is not clear what his paymaster might have asked of him in return.

According to the book written jointly by his widow and Alex Goldfarb – the Russian émigré who issued the bulletins on Litvinenko's fatal illness – he helped conduct due diligence investigations into Russian companies on the part of would-be foreign investors. He is also known to have travelled frequently, mainly to Georgia and other countries formerly in the Soviet Union. At the same time, much of the information he had been privy to as an investigator in the commercial division of Russian intelligence in the 1990s would have been out of date, so his usefulness to any investor would have been limited – as it would have been to a foreign intelligence service. It was apparently the low grade of information he had to offer that brought a rejection from his first choice of asylum – the United States.

There has been speculation that towards the end he had money worries, precipitated perhaps by a desire to break with Berezovsky. Others say this is disinformation. What is not in dispute is that he had known Andrei Lugovoi in the 1990s and that they shared a connection with Boris Berezovsky. They had not been in touch, however, for almost 10 years, when Litvinenko suddenly approached Lugovoi from London, and suggested meeting up. Lugovoi says they then did some – unidentified – projects together, though he suggests that Litvinenko did little more than sit in on his meetings, in the hope, perhaps, of drumming up some business for himself.

No evidence has emerged that either was involved in nuclear smuggling – or, if they were, on whose behalf. One person who definitely was involved in such murky dealings, however, is Mario Scaramella, the Italian businessman and academic, whom Litvinenko met on 1 November at the Itsu restaurant in Piccadilly.

It is also worth noting that one of the few instances of nuclear smuggling to have come to light in recent years (of uranium) concerned a Russian man caught in Georgia in 2007 as part of an FBI "sting" operation. Which introduces another dimension.

Nuclear smuggling has been much trumpeted as a global peril since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but very few cases have become public, even though Western governments would surely have an interest in demonstrating that the threat was real and being successfully addressed. In fact, I know of no case that has been reported that was not linked to a "sting" operation – staged by Western intelligence agencies to find out the extent of nuclear smuggling going on.

A celebrated case uncovered in Germany in 1997 led to Russian accusations that, in their zeal to mount "sting operations", Western intelligence agents were creating an artificial market in illicit nuclear materials. Such "stings", they complained, amounted to "provocations". It is worth bearing this criticism in mind.


So is it fanciful to suggest that British intelligence might have had a role in the Litvinenko affair? And if so, what might it have been?

It has been confidently reported that, at the time of his death, Litvinenko was receiving a retainer from MI6. For obvious reasons, This will never be confirmed, although irregular payments to exiles for particular pieces of information are routinely made. A retainer, though, would suggest more systematic cooperation.

Lonely in London, Litvinenko also joined the circle of exiles that gathered around Oleg Gordievsky, the celebrated Russian double agent who defected to Britain back in 1985. Gordievsky has pronounced on the case at several key junctures. Immediately after Litvinenko's death, he mentioned the meeting between Litvinenko and Lugovoi in a room at the Millennium Hotel that preceded their encounter in the hotel's Pine Bar.

This is where he suggested that Litvinenko really drank poisoned tea. He also mentioned the presence of a third man, called Vladislav or similar – as another possible assassin. Some of this may be disinformation – after all, "once a chekist, always a chekist" – but some of it may not be.

Lugovoi, as another former KGB man, also has credibility problems. But it is not only his account of approaches from MI6 that rings true. He has also described a meeting with Litvinenko at the offices of the Erinys security company in Mayfair (25 Grosvenor Street), which he understood to be part of Berezovsky's empire. He observed that the company seemed to be peppered with former British intelligence agents – which suggests an improbable, but not impossible, crossover between the activities of Berezovsky and those of MI6. It might also require a reassessment of Berezovsky's activities in Britain.

It is not at all clear what relations MI6 had with Litvinenko, Lugovoi or Berezovsky, but you do not have to rely on Lugovoi's self-interested testimony to suspect that it was involved with all three. The current head of MI6, John Scarlett, emerges as a linchpin. He is believed to have recruited both Gordievsky and Litvinenko. He, or his people, may also have played a part in trying to recruit Lugovoi.

Gordievsky receives a relatively generous government pension. In addition, he was made a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the Queen's honours list last year – in a nice touch, it was the same award as that received by the fictional James Bond. He also appears from time to time to be called upon to sing for his supper – as two years ago when he told the BBC that the story of British agents in Moscow being caught using fake rocks as a dead-letterbox was "ridiculous".

Marina Litvinenko says she knew of no contacts between her husband and British intelligence. But she did talk to me about the haven that he found in Gordievsky's circle. Perhaps Gordievsky was the link.

It seems safe to say that Litvinenko had a relationship with MI6, which could be seen as providing a motive for Russia – or rival Russian exiles – to eliminate him. But it could also be seen as a hint of desperation: perhaps he could find no other line of paying business. Whatever the truth, MI6 probably knows more about what happened to Litvinenko, and why, than might be concluded from its complete non-appearance in the authorised British version of his death.


If the shadowy hand of MI6 can be detected in the Litvinenko affair, then so can that of Boris Berezovsky. The Russian exile, multi-millionaire property magnate, and perpetual thorn in Putin's side, was a constant presence behind the scenes. It was he who sponsored Litvinenko's entry to Britain – out of gratitude, it is said, for Litvinenko's refusal, in the late Nineties, to act on orders to kill him. He appears to have been Litvinenko's main source of employment in Britain, and his charity continues to support his widow.

Berezovsky also had links to Lugovoi. Back in Russia, he had employed Lugovoi to organise his security, and Lugovoi's company was, until recently at least, reported to have the contract for protecting Berezovsky's daughter.

In the last week of Litvinenko's life, it was also Berezovsky's money that bought the publicity campaign, so expertly fronted by Alex Goldfarb. Thus the view that the British public had of Litvinenko's illness and death was essentially dictated by Berezovsky. Until the very end, neither the hospital, nor the British authorities, nor the Russian embassy contributed anything at all. Berezovsky, through Goldfarb and the PR company, Bell Pottinger, had the field entirely to himself.

Some have asked whether so comprehensive a PR effort might not have been intended as a diversion – to disguise, say, a catastrophic accident to Berezovsky's employee and recast it as a Kremlin-ordered assassination. That cannot be excluded.

More likely, though, it is possible that Berezovsky genuinely believed Litvinenko to have been targeted by the Kremlin – as a proxy, perhaps, for himself. As well as perhaps feeling guilty, Berezovsky doubtless saw another opportunity to pursue his campaign against Putin. And if, as it appears, his first instinct was to suspect poisoning with thallium, the assumption of Kremlin involvement would have made perfect sense.

The discovery that the poison was not thallium, but polonium-210, however – a substance that would be intended for mass, rather than individual, annihilation – suggests that the context was not political vendetta, but illicit nuclear trading. The careless handling of radioactive material then becomes by far the most likely explanation for Litvinenko's death.

That the polonium might also have been tracked as part of an attempted security services "sting" would also explain why British officials have stuck so rigidly to their version. Why, after all, would they choose to pick a quarrel with the Kremlin, rather than present Litvinenko as the accidental victim of Russian émigré nuclear trafficking – unless there was something in the latter explanation they needed to hide?

And what implications do these five clusters of questions have for Anglo-Russian relations? Aside from her natural desire to clear the cloud of suspicion that is increasingly gathering over her husband's activities, Alexander Litvinenko's widow, Marina, may have another reason to press her call for an inquest now. As Russia prepares to inaugurate a new president, Dmitry Medvedev, she hopes that the Kremlin's line might soften.

In fact, any softening so far is to be discerned on the British side. We have not heard any furious public statements about Russia's iniquities for a while. It was announced recently that a new ambassador had been appointed to take over from Sir Anthony Brenton, who had angered the Kremlin by consorting with opposition figures.

The slanging match over the British Council has dropped out of the news; discussions on the visa regime are to be unfrozen, and even the one-time attack-dog, David Miliband, has spoken of the need for dialogue with Russia. The decks, it seems, are being cleared for a new start under a new president, even if the old leader, Vladimir Putin, will initially be directing the production from the wings.

Unfortunately, a victim of the new rapprochement could be the truth – the real truth – about what happened to Alexander Litvinenko. Sad to say, there may be those in Britain who are even more interested than the new overlord of the Kremlin in seeing this divisive case consigned to oblivion.

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