Russia quizzed for clues on ex-spy's death
MOSCOW has been asked for any information which would assist Scotland Yard with its inquiries into the death of former spy Alexander Litvinenko, it emerged last night.
Officials discussed the issue with Yuri Fedotov, the Russian ambassador, at a meeting yesterday afternoon.
It was also revealed that COBRA, the government's top emergency team, has met three times since Thursday to discuss the death of an ex-KGB man.
The committee of top politicians and defence, police and intelligence chiefs meets only in times of serious civil emergency. COBRA was previously convened when a plot to blow up airliners was foiled in August.
Meanwhile, five locations in London were being investigated for traces of radiation last night as the hunt for the killers turned into a day of drama.
Radioactive polonium 210 was revealed as the almost certain cause of his poisoning.
Police confirmed the highly toxic substance had been found at the Itsu sushi bar in Piccadilly and the Millennium Hotel in Grosvenor Square - two venues used by Mr Litvinenko for meetings on 1 November. Police also found traces at the dissident's home in Muswell Hill, while investigation teams were examining the hospitals where he had been treated.
The day began with an emotional press conference at which Alex Goldfarb, a friend of the dead man, read Litvinenko's last statement to the world's media. His tearful father, Walter, a doctor, also pinned the blame for his son's death directly on Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. "This regime is a mortal danger to the world," he said.
Russia's response was muted. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "The death of a person is always a tragedy. At this time, it is a matter for investigation into what happened by the law enforcement agencies in Britain, where Mr Litvinenko had been recently resident."
Mr Putin later waded into the controversy. He said there was no evidence implicating the Kremlin, adding: "It is a great pity that even something as tragic as a man's death is being used for political provocation.
"I hope the British authorities would not contribute to instigating political scandals. It has nothing to do with reality."
Dark forces behind his death bring back Cold War spectre
THE shocking image of the poisoned Russian's sickly, jaundiced face as he lay dying in a hospital bed starkly symbolised the grim reality that a war most people believed over is still apparently claiming casualties.
And while Russia denies any hand in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the days leading up to his death have cast a light on a dissident world light-years away from the cash-rich opulence of the new Russians.
Whether 43-year-old Litvinenko died at the hand of Russia's secret services or from rogue elements sympathetic to them, the story of the ex-KGB officer revives the spectre of the cold war and the fate which, opponents claim, can await those who criticise the Kremlin from abroad.
Litvinenko's decision to flee Russia in 2000 inevitably brought him into the ranks of the dissident factions that use London as a base to continue opposition to Vladimir Putin.
One dominant figure in that constellation of critics is exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Russia's first billionaire, Berezovsky was a key aide of Boris Yeltsin but fled to London in 2000 after criticising Putin, his successor.
Litvinenko numbered other prominent dissidents among his circle in London. One neighbour in North London was Akhmed Zakayev, a leading Chechen separatist who commanded rebels in the war with Russian forces. He left Chechnya in 2000 and sought asylum in the UK in 2002, beating attempts by Moscow to have him extradited.
Other friends of Litvinenko included Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB officer who became a high-profile defector when he fled to Britain in 1985, and Vladimir Bukovsky, an even earlier dissident who moved to the UK in 1976 after a decade behind bars.
Litvinenko's career as a Kremlin critic began in earnest in 1998 when the then FSB officer - the successor to the KGB - claimed he had been ordered to murder Berezovsky. He fled to Britain in 2000 where he published a book, Blowing Up Russia, which accused Russian agents of dirty tricks in the war against Chechen rebels. Two more developments underlined Litvinenko's credentials as a critic of Putin's Russia.
He had begun looking into the murder of the prominent journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead last month in her Moscow apartment block.
Her political concerns overlapped his own. The newspaper journalist had repeatedly highlighted Russia's human rights abuses in Chechnya and earned her repeated death threats. The hand of the FSB was claimed to be at work when she herself fell seriously ill with symptoms of food poisoning on a flight from Moscow to southern Russia.
Litvinenko was also said to be looking into the activities of alleged Russian death squads operating abroad. That hunt led to his connection with Italian academic and security expert Mario Scaramella, the man he met at the Itsu sushi bar in London on 1 November. The pair examined documents brought by Scaramella which purported to name Kremlin targets abroad and listed both men's names.
The Italian also passed him a document which appeared to name those responsible for Politkovskaya's murder.
That date - 1 November - was the date of an earlier meeting at the Millennium Hotel in London's Grosvenor Square. There he met Andrei Lugovoy, a former KGB officer, and two other men. Lugovoy pointedly denied any role in his death yesterday, stating that Litvinenko had neither eaten nor drunk anything in his presence.
How close Litvinenko had come to revelations on his political hunts will now never be known. He complained of feeling ill last Friday and was transferred to University College Hospital, London.
The father of one dictated his last statement as he felt his life ebbing away, directly indicting Putin for his murder. He died at 9:21pm on Thursday.
While the Kremlin calls the death a tragedy, Litvinenko's supporters are in little doubt where the blame lies. He had one simple explanation for his friend Andrei Nekrasov before he lapsed into unconsciousness.
"The bastards got me, but they won't get everybody."
I would like to thank many people. My doctors, nurses and hospital staff ; the British police who are pursuing my case with vigour and are watching over me and my family. I would like to thank the British Government for taking me under their care. I am honoured to be a British citizen.
I would like to thank the British public for their messages of support and for the interest they have shown in my plight.
I thank my wife, Marina, who has stood by me. My love for her and our son knows no bounds.
But, as I lie here I can distinctly hear the beating of wings of the angel of death. I may be able to give him the slip, but I have to say my legs do not run as fast as I would like. I think, therefore, that this may be the time to say one or two things to the person responsible for my present condition.
You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.
You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value.
You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women.
You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.
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