Putin’s Kremlin Employs assassination abroad as State Policy in a manner not seen in Moscow since Stalin
By John R. Schindler
This week’s announcement by a British court that Russian spies murdered Alexander Litvinenko in London in November 2006, made global headlines. Particularly because the massive report, based on a multi-year investigation, concluded that the Kremlin must have approved the assassination at the highest levels, “probably” including President Vladimir Putin himself.
This is a big story, given the sensational manner of Litvinenko’s death, notwithstanding that the complicity of Russian officialdom in the murder has been obvious for years, while the likelihood that Mr. Putin green-lighted the hit could be news only to those unacquainted with how his regime actually works.
The essential facts of the case were known almost from the outset.
Mr. Litvinenko, a former Russian intelligence officer who had moved to Britain, where he received sanctuary, met with two Russians on November 1, 2006, at London’s Millennium Hotel, where Litvinenko had tea. That tea had been poisoned, apparently by one of the two Russians he met, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun, and Litvinenko soon fell seriously ill, dying in agony three weeks later.
He was killed by polonium-210, a rare and highly radioactive element that British investigators assess came from a Russian reactor. Moscow’s motive for murdering Mr. Litvinenko was simple: as a onetime officer of Soviet state security, the KGB, and its successor, the Russian Federal Security Service or FSB, he was a defector in the minds of his former employers, as well as Mr. Putin, himself a former KGB officer. Litvinenko was collaborating with British intelligence and was on their payroll. Of particular concern to the Kremlin, Litvinenko was telling London (and in some cases the Western press) details about high-level corruption in Moscow, as well as secret FSB ties to Al-Qa’ida, and even allegations of pedophilia by Mr. Putin.
Kremlin involvement in assassinations abroad is nothing new, it was once standard Moscow policy, but it lay dormant for a half-century, only to be resurrected by Mr. Putin. In Stalin’s time, the Soviet secret police murdered enemies abroad with gusto, what the KGB called “wetwork” (from the Russian mokroye delo – “wet affairs”). Throughout the 1930s, opponents of the Bolshevik regime living in exile were targeted by Stalin’s spies for murder. Some were kidnapped off the streets of Paris, never to be seen again, while others were blown apart by bombs – in one case in Rotterdam,disguised as a box of chocolates.All this was explosive to the Kremlin, which takes a dim view of any defectors, much less ones who blab to foreign reporters. “Traitors always end badly,” Mr. Putin once explained, and the involvement of Mr. Lugovoy, a onetime KGB officer, in Litvinenko’s death provides compelling, if circumstantial, evidence of Kremlin culpability behind the assassination. “There are no ‘former’ intelligence officers,” as Mr. Putin has stated on more than one occasion.
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