British police are investigating allegations that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) received a container of radioactive polonium less than three months before a dose of the same substance killed former KGB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko in London in 2006.
London's "Sunday Times" newspaper reports that documents acquired from an unnamed source by Litvinenko's widow, Marina, appear to show the FSB obtained polonium from a Russian nuclear power station in 2006. If real, the evidence would be the strongest to date that Russian special forces were behind the murder of Litvinenko, a former intelligence agent turned staunch Kremlin critic who died four years ago.
RFE/RL's Russian service correspondents Natalia Golitsina and Andrei Sharogradsky spoke to Aleksandr Goldfarb, a friend of the Litvinenko's, and intelligence expert Andrei Soldatov.RFE/RL: Can you tell us about the documents you received?Aleksandr Goldfarb:
We're grateful to those important people who risked their lives to copy the documents [and give them] to us. The papers show that a radioactive container was transported from the Balakovskaya nuclear power plant to Moscow [1,200 kilometers away]. The plant is run by Rosatom, the state nuclear-power agency, which is a civilian organization. In Moscow, the container was given to representatives of the FSB's scientific research center.
If the documents are real, they show the container of polonium was transferred from Rosatom to the FSB about two months before traces of polonium were found in London. A special military unit based in Yaroslavl transported the container. The documents include a trip assignment for the driver, a staff sergeant, and an invoice stating that the container held polonium produced in Sarov, a nuclear research town formerly called Arzamas 16. If true, the documents are an important addition to the argument that the FSB stands behind Litvinenko's murder, that it was a state crime, and that the polonium wasn't stolen.
Polonium is so rare, it couldn't have been a coincidence that the FSB obtained the substance two months before Litvinenko's killing. Of course, the evidence is indirect; it's not direct proof. The documents give the names of at least eight people, drivers, security officers, and two high-ranking officials of the Balakovskaya nuclear plant. The authorities must have been involved for them to have taken part. Because what we have are copies. The originals are lying somewhere else.
RFE/RL: The authenticity of the documents is being questioned in Russia, and you yourself say, "if they turn out to be real." Goldfarb:
Unverified copies of documents about container transfer from Balakovskaya AES
Doubts about the papers in Russia mainly concern the fact that civilian experts on the FSB have never heard of a unit called the "Main Reserve," to which the special forces vehicle supposed to have transported the material was assigned. Our source says the Main Reserve is a network of several military units located in strategically important areas of Russia, where special storage sites of arms and materiel are kept that can be used at a moment's notice if necessary. It's true no civilian expert has heard about it, and we simply don’t know what the special forces think about it. The information has all been given over to the British police, who are investigating it.RFE/RL: We're talking about a relatively large amount of polonium-210, more than 3 kilograms.Goldfarb:
That's absolutely not true. That's the weight of the container, the documents show most of that weight is lead that protects against radiation. Someone somewhere wrote down the wrong information, and that's how that figure spread. But one gram of polonium is enough to poison a million people.RFE/RL: Did your source tell you why he waited so long?Goldfarb:
He has his own personal circumstances. The decision took a long time to ripen, and I'm not sure he even had access to the documents earlier. I don't know when the copies were made, but I can’t say more than that to protect our source. However, I don’t doubt that he's serious. Unlike all the other observers, journalists, and others who are discussing this issue, we're in a position to know the source, and we trust him.RFE/RL: Andrei Soldatov, what's your take on the documents?Andrei Soldatov:
I've never heard that the FSB has a Main Reserve. There was a "General Reserve" under the KGB more than 20 years ago meant for use during military operations, but it referred to arms caches inside European countries. If Soviet troops were to have been sent to Germany, diversionary units would have obtained weapons, explosives and money from those secret locations. But I've been studying this topic for a long time and have never heard that the FSB has a similar division. Moreover, the [FSB] documents [in question] show the number of the military units involved, and they appear to refer to a motorized infantry regiment in Belarus. That's the basis behind the questions about the documents.RFE/RL: If the allegations turn out to be true, would they affect the [Russian] investigation into the Litvinenko case?
Of course. The appearance of such documents -- or rather, the FSB's reaction to them -- is revealing. The "Sunday Times" ended its article quoting the FSB saying the documents are fake. That indicates the FSB is out of control and unaccountable. I think this issue is too important -- its social significance is too serious -- to dismiss it by saying the documents are fake. The FSB and the prosecutor-general have announced they're carrying out their own investigation into Litvinenko's death, and they're now obliged to present their evidence.