This wikileaks cable ‘LITVINENKO ASSASSINATION: REACTION IN MOSCOW’ (1 Dec 06) reflects the views of the US ambassador, Ambassador William J. Burns, on the long-running Litvinenko Whodunnit, which I annotated several years ago.
The November 23 death by radiation poisoning of former FSB agent Aleksandr Litvinenko in London has spawned a welter of conspiracy theories in Russia. The media have variously traced Litvinenko’s demise to XXXXXXXXXXXX, suicide, Putin’s Kremlin, Putin himself, those determined to undermine Putin, FSB agents unhappy with Litvinenko’s alleged betrayal of their organization, those unhappy with Litvinenko’s cooperation with Israel-based businessman Nevzlin on the Yukos affair, and the United States or “other” countries. This message recounts a representative sample of speculation, much of it self-serving.
Another wikileaks cable, HAMBURG POLICE TRACK POLONIUM TRAIL (19 Dec 06) is also relevant, describing Kovtun’s movements.
Schindler explained German officials retraced Kovtun’s steps to and from his ex-wife’s home in Hamburg. Schindler said Kovtun left polonium traces on everything he touched – vehicles, objects, clothes, and furniture. German investigators concluded Kovtun did not have polonium traces on his skin or clothes; Schindler said the polonium was coming out of his body, for example through his pores. German authorities had tested the German Wings airplane that had taken Kovtun from Hamburg to London; no traces of polonium were found. Germany had wanted to test the Aeroflot plane that flew Kovtun to Germany, and had prepared to ground it upon its next arrival in Germany. Schindler said RUSSIAN authorities must have found out about German plans because “at the last minute” Aeroflot swapped planes; Schindler said he did not expect Aeroflot to fly the other plane to Germany any time soon.
The memo contains an observation from US embassy officials that Safonov’s comments suggested Russia “was not involved in the killing, although Safonov did not offer any further explanation”.
Later the memo records that Safonov claimed that “Russian authorities in London had known about and followed individuals moving radioactive substances into the city but were told by the British that they were under control before the poisoning took place”.
The claim will be rejected in many quarters as a clumsy attempt by Moscow to deflect accusations that its agents were involved in the assassination.
Russia says it had nothing to do with the murder, but espionage experts claim the killing would not have been possible without Kremlin backing. Shortly before he died, Litvinenko said he had met two former KGB agents, Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi, on the day he fell ill. Both men deny wrongdoing, but Britain has made a formal request for Lugovoi’s extradition following a recommendation by the director of public prosecutions.
For afficionados, here’s a list of our Litvinenko pieces, which may shed light on the redaction in the cable.