Who Killed Alexander Litvinenko?

Alexander Litvinenko, date unknown.
Alexander Litvinenko, date unknown.

I read this fascinating article earlier this year (in the end of January), sent it to my mom in an email with extensive commentary, then very foolishly forgot to post it here on my blog. The article, which appeared in Newsweek—that’s a mainstream publication, mind you—is called Who Killed Litvinenko? Perhaps Not Russia After All.

(If you’re not familiar with the Litvinenko case, consider reading this Wikipedia article. It’s quite comprehensive, if a bit biased in certain places.)

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the Newsweek article. If you haven’t read it, you probably should or this post won’t make sense. 🙂

This is the only article I’ve ever read in the mainstream Western media that at least considers the possibility that the Russian state wasn’t involved in this. And the inconsistencies of the case are certainly interesting.

1) No postmortem findings have ever been published. Not even to support the UK’s extradition request (which the Russians refused, since their constitution forbids the extradition of Russian citizens).

2) There was supposed to be some sort of inquest opened.Typically the coroner conducts this. Except in this case, it was delayed because the coroner “fell ill” (that’s what the article says) and was then replaced for misconduct. It could obviously be a coincidence… but I also think it’s odd that the guy was basically taken off the case before any proper investigation could have been done. Sure, he could have really been engaging in “misconduct.” But what better way to shed doubts on someone’s conclusions than having them dismissed for something like that?

3) The order of the contamination has never been clear. The media always says that Andrei Lugovoi (the guy the Russian government refuses to extradite) slipped polonium into Litvinenko’s tea when they met at a restaurant and then Litvinenko died. Of course, I’ve simplified somewhat, but that’s usually what is reported. It’s not clear how, when, or who was involved in getting this polonium.

4) People always say that Russia was involved since it is one of the few countries that has polonium. I’ve thought and argued for some time that just because Russia has polonium doesn’t mean this polonium left Russia with government approval. I read a fascinating book on global organized crime and black markets (McMafia) and the rather frightening conclusion I drew from that book was you basically can buy anything, if you have enough money, even if it’s something highly secret and highly illegal. Circa 2006, when this took place, Boris Berezovsky, who had strong ties to Litvinenko, certainly had more than enough money to buy basically anything he wanted. Berezovsky also had connections to black markets from his activities in Russia in the 1990s. Also rather convenient right now is the fact that Berezovsky is dead. Just to put that out there.

5) This is just a rumor now, but the British guy, Sir Robert Owen, who is heading up this case right now, allegedly (according to sources who don’t want to be named because they weren’t supposed to speak to journalists about this) has backtracked from his prior assertion that this was a state-sponsored assassination.

It would be nice if the British government actually did conduct a proper inquiry into this. It may be too little, too late, but certainly I’d be interested to hear more.


4 thoughts on “Who Killed Alexander Litvinenko?

  1. Sir Owen hasn’t been replaced, as far as I know, but – rather – he had asked for the inquiry to be upgraded to a public inquiry, which has the power to ask the UK Government to disclose some documents which the then minister for foreign affairs, Hague, refused to publish.

    Personally I tend to apply Occam’s razor to Litvinenko’s death. Russia had the reasons, the means and the occasion to have him killed. Sometimes one shouldn’t look further away from the most obvious explanation.

    To think that someone got material that can only be found within the core of a nuclear reactor – and not any nuclear reactor, I understand, but only one of a certain type -went through the pain of smuggling it in the UK and used it to season a Russian refugees’ tea (rather than using that polonium for a bomb, or just to shoot the man), all to make Putin look bad… Well, Fleming would’ve had a hard time figuring out a plot like that.


    1. Interesting, I hadn’t heard that about Sir Owen. Not that I’m an expert by any means!

      As for getting the polonium out, I was more thinking that bribes theoretically could have been paid. There’s a ton of bribery and corruption over there, so you never know. At the very least, I may stick something like that into a novel I’m writing. 😉

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