UK Inquiry Implicates Putin in Litvinenko Murder

Alexander Litvinenko was a former FSB [KGB] man who defected to the UK, becoming a British citizen, after becoming a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin. He died in November 2006 from polonium-210 poisoning. A British inquiry into his death has just reported its findings. It holds two Russian agents, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, responsible, and it acknowledges a “strong probability” that the Russian security forces ordered the murder. So, the question is not so much “What did President Putin know and when did he know it?” Instead, it is “what can and what should be done about it?”

Sir Robert Owen, chairman of the inquiry and former High Court judge, wrote on page 240 of the inquiry report, “When Mr Lugovoy poisoned Mr Litvinenko (as I have found that he did), it is probable that he did so under the direction of the FSB. I would add that I regard that as a strong probability. I have found that Mr Kovtun also took part in the poisoning; I conclude therefore that he was also acting under FSB direction, possibly indirectly through Mr Lugovoy but probably to his knowledge.”

At no point in the report does Sir Robert state that President Putin ordered the hit. Instead, “Since 2006 President Putin has supported and protected Mr Lugovoy, notwithstanding the fact that Mr Lugovoy has been publicly accused of killing Mr Litvinenko. During the course of the Inquiry hearings, President Putin awarded Mr Lugovoy an honour for services to the fatherland. Whilst it does not follow that Mr Lugovoy must have been acting on behalf of the Russian State when he killed Mr Litvinenko, the way in which President Putin has treated Mr Lugovoy is certainly consistent with that hypothesis. Moreover, President Putin’s conduct towards Mr Lugovoy suggests a level of approval for the killing of Mr Litvinenko.”

Also, “Taking full account of all the evidence and analysis available to me I find that the FSB operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev [then head of the FSB] and also by President Putin.”

So what does one do? There is a strong circumstantial of a foreign head of state participating in the murder of a British subject in London. It is not the sort of evidence that would stand up to judicial scrutiny in a court of law, but international politics is not played by the same rules of evidence. This journal believes that Mr. Putin had created by 2006 an environment in which the murder of a man like Mr. Litvinenko could be undertaken by FSB agents secure in the knowledge that they would receive ex post facto permission and approval for such a crime. What should the British response be to the murder of a British subject in a tea room in London by the FSB?

Clearly, Mr. Putin is not going to stand trial in London. Indeed, he will probably never stand trial anywhere but in the courtroom of history. Yet Britain cannot allow this crime to go unanswered. The Brits have some tools at their disposal that they should consider using.

London has become a safe-deposit box for many very rich Russians who want to have someplace outside their own country as a bolt-hole in case things go pear-shaped. With the price of oil collapsing, that is a genuine possibility. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs should begin an immediate and very slow and detailed audit of all property purchases by Russian nationals in the UK. Sanctions on travel and further export of money to Britain should also be imposed. The financial lives of Russians with property in the UK who do not reside in the UK ought to be made as miserable as possible.

The purpose, of course, would be to create pressure on Mr. Putin to surrender Messr. Lugovoi and Kovtun to stand trial. Once Mr. Putin ceases to lead Russia, sanctions on him should be severe — not that he will really notice as by then he will be an old man retired to his dacha or dead from old age. Complete justice cannot be done in this instance it would appear, but partial justice is better than none at all.