Could things get any stranger in the Case of the Poisoned Spy?
As some of you may remember from our last post about the Litvinenko murder, British authorities were requesting the extradition of ex-KGB/FSB agent Andrei Lugovoi to London from Moscow to face charges in the radiation poisoning death of rogue former spy Alexander Litvinenko.
The conventional wisdom is that Litvinenko's death was ordered by the Kremlin, and the dying man's death-bed statement laid the blame for his murder squarely at the feet of Russian president Vladimir Putin:
(A)s 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.
I have been one of the people who is holding out for further anti-Kremlin evidence before making my decision as to who is to blame. There are several things about this crime that don't add up. Dr. Hillhouse at The Spy Who Billed Me seems to think that these various bunglings and inconsistencies point to a badly botched hit that was ordered by the FSB, but carried out by a third agency.
Andrei Lugovoi begs to differ. He agrees that an outside agency was involved, but rather than the Russian mafia, it was the British Government.
MOSCOW, May 31 — The suspect in the fatal poisoning of Alexander V. Litvinenko, the former K.G.B. officer and Kremlin critic who died last year in Britain, said Thursday that Britain’s foreign intelligence agency and a self-exiled Russian tycoon had organized the killing and framed him to create a political scandal.
The suspect, the Russian businessman Andrei K. Lugovoi, also contended that British intelligence officers had tried to recruit him to collect compromising material about President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
“The poisoning of Litvinenko could not have been but under the control of the British special service,” Mr. Lugovoi said at a packed news conference here, during which he gave sensational but unverifiable descriptions of the supposed actions of spies and their agents among Russians living in London.
He said he had evidence supporting “this dark political story in which British special services play the main role.” He refused to disclose it, saying he would provide his information only to the Russian government.
Now this is an interesting new wrinkle. There were rumors that I touched on in an earlier post about Litvinenko attempting to blackmail Boris Berezovsky, which Berezovsky purportedly responded to by promptly ordering Litvinenko's murder. I wouldn't be surprised, but I would be very surprised if, as Lugovoi says, MI6 was involved as well.
At the briefing on Thursday, Mr. Lugovoi, whose travels through London last fall left a trail of polomium 210 traces in offices, hotel rooms, restaurants and bars, jabbed his finger at the crowd and declared himself a victim.
He spoke swiftly and often excitedly. At times his allegations contradicted one another, as when he suggested that Mr. Litvinenko had been killed by a Spanish arm of the Russian mafia, or on orders from Mr. Berezovsky in revenge for a failed blackmail attempt.
Mr. Lugovoi should perhaps pick one story to run with before he has a press conference or run the risk of coming off as slippery and self-contradictory as a BushCo Press Secretary.
Mr. Lugovoi also said Mr. Litvinenko and Mr. Berezovsky worked for the British foreign intelligence agency, MI6, and accused the British government of spreading traces of polonium along his and Mr. Kovtun’s routes to try to frame them. “We were marked by polonium on purpose for the future use in a political scandal,” he said.
And here is where, once again, I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that the Kremlin may not actually be at fault here. While I doubt the involvement of MI6, I do believe that someone has done this with an eye to creating hostility and suspicion toward the Kremlin in the international community. I am hardly a Putin apologist, but the whole thing seems to be ridiculously messy and high profile when all the Kremlin had to do was quietly kill Litvinenko and melt back into the shadows. Why would the Putin regime want to silence a critic by drawing exponentially more attention to the man?