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Russia Backed Litvinenko Murder, BBC Reports

  • Brian Whitmore

Aleksandr Litvinenko, shortly before his death

Aleksandr Litvinenko, shortly before his death

A British security service agent has told the BBC that the Russian state was most likely involved in the 2006 poisoning death of former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko in London.

The unidentified agent told BBC's "Newsnight" program on July 7 that there were "very strong indications it was a state action." The agent added that "it was the Russian state, not a rogue element."

The allegation went further than any official statement on the matter to date. British investigators have long said they suspect former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi of the murder and have sought his extradition -- a request that Moscow has steadfastly refused, causing Russian-British relations to deteriorate to a post-Cold War low.

Edward Lucas, deputy foreign editor of "The Economist" and author of the book "The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces Both Russia and the West," tells RFE/RL that Britain's security services may be trying to sound the alarm about Moscow's increasingly aggressive international stance.

"This may show that British officialdom is wanting to underline its concerns about the way Russia has been behaving," Lucas says. "There is always an impulse from diplomacy and from politicians to try and make things better. I think that the British security service, like the British intelligence services, is quite worried about what is going on in Russia. Maybe they have taken this opportunity to say pretty much what they have been saying before, but say it in slightly stronger terms and in an unusually public way."

'Very Frank' Talks

The BBC report aired as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown held what has been described as a tense meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Japan. Brown reportedly raised the Litvinenko assassination, the closure of two British Council offices in Russia, and other contentious bilateral issues in the meeting.

According to media reports, the discussion was "very frank," but Medvedev refused to cede any ground to Brown.

The BBC report also quoted officials from the British security service, MI5, as saying they believed they had stopped Russian security services from killing another Kremlin critic, self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, in London last year.

Litvinenko fled Russia in 2000 after claiming that the Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor, was behind the deadly September 1999 apartment-building bombings in Moscow and other cities. He became a British citizen in October 2006.

Litvinenko died in a London hospital in November 2006 after ingesting radioactive polonium-210. In a deathbed statement, he accused Vladimir Putin, then Russia's president, of ordering his killing.

The Kremlin has fiercely denied the claim.
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