Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably approved” the murder of former FSB spy turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, a British inquiry has concluded.
Litvinenko was murdered in November 2006 when a small amount of polonium-210, a highly toxic and radioactive substance, was slipped into his tea at the Millennium Hotel in London. At the time of his poisoning, Litvinenko was meeting with Andrei Lugovoi, another FSB employee. The inquiry identified Lugovoi and ex-KGB agent Dmitri Kovtun as the likely perpetrators of the poisoning.
Sir Robert Owen, a former British High Court judge, led the inquiry, which lasted nearly three years.
In a public briefing in London this week, Owen announced the inquiry’s findings about Putin and former FSB chairman Nikolai Patrushev’s involvement in the assassination. Owen said that Litvinenko was targeted because he threatened to expose examples of Putin’s corruption, including ties to organized crime.
Reaction to the inquiry’s findings fell along predictable lines. Litvinenko’s wife, Marina Litvinenko, expressed satisfaction with the report and called on the British government to impose sanctions on Russia.
Russia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Alexander Yakovenko, lambasted the Owen inquiry, calling it a “blatant provocation of the British authorities.”
“It was absolutely unacceptable that the report concludes that the Russian state was in any way involved in the death of Mr. Litvinenko,” Yakovenko said.
The British government called the news “extremely disturbing,” and the Foreign Office stated that Russia “had demonstrated a flagrant disregard for U.K. law, international law and standards of conduct.” The British government also froze the assets of the suspected killers, Lugovoi and Kovtun, who now reside in Russia.
Beyond those limited expressions of protest, it is unclear how the British government will respond to the inquiry’s findings, especially as Western powers court Russia for its help in resolving the civil war in Syria.
Litvinenko is one of almost ten Russian dissidents who have died under suspicious circumstances during Putin’s time in power.