Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010

The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko

Moscow doesn't like it when former intelligence officers publicly accuse it of promoting terrorism and backing secret assassination plots. So when former Russian Federal Security Service officer Alexander Litvinenko accused his superiors of ordering the assassination of Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, he knew he was marking himself as a wanted man. Litvinenko was arrested, tried, acquitted, arrested again and released. He then fled to the U.K., where he received political asylum. Living in London, he published two anti–Vladimir Putin books and regularly accused the Russian government of sponsoring terrorism. Then, oddly, he fell ill and died.

In November 2006, Litvinenko succumbed to acute radiation syndrome brought on by contact with a lethal dose of polonium 210. In short, he was poisoned. Within weeks, the once hardy 44-year-old had withered to an emaciated, hairless version of himself. On his deathbed, the dissident fingered Putin as his killer. The Russian leader has never been officially linked to the assassination. British authorities submitted a formal extradition request for Andrei Lugovy, a member of the Duma who met with Litvinenko the day he first became ill. Russia's response? Extradition denied.