By Luke Harding
1 November 2006. Alexander Litvinenko is overtly poisoned in crucial London. Twenty days later he dies, killed from the interior. The poison? Polonium; a unprecedented, deadly and hugely radioactive substance. His crime? He had made a few strong enemies in Russia.
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Extra resources for A Very Expensive Poison
Instead of protecting the state, senior FSB officials were busy lining their pockets. Asked if he was scared, Litvinenko said he perfectly understood there would be retribution. ‘I know the habits of this organisation and therefore suspect that we shall all be strangled like blind puppies,’ he replied, adding that ‘as a citizen’ he considered it his duty to act. He said the plot against Berezovsky demonstrated that there was ‘anti-semitism’ in Russia at the very top. It was clear, he said, he was being hounded for his opinion that ‘nationalism is evil’.
He learned from legendary spymasters who had worked with the Cold War’s most famous western defectors – the Rosenbergs, who stole the US’s atomic secrets, and the upper-class Cambridge spy ring, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. Shvets also did a two-month training stint with a Spetsnaz or special forces unit. He parachuted from planes, learned how to handle a variety of weapons and to plant mines. He was taught how to blow up bridges and to interrogate enemy prisoners. He learned guerrilla tactics.
As Berezovsky told it, his rise to power and influence made him enemies. Especially inside the former KGB. Russia’s spy agencies were on the back foot following the KGB’s failed coup in August 1991 against Mikhail Gorbachev. Berezovsky said he urged Yeltsin to rein in the new FSB, and to debar former KGB operatives from high office. Russia needed to go through the same ‘lustration’ process that east Germany and the new Czech Republic went through after the fall of communism, he said. The FSB, however, had plans of its own.
A Very Expensive Poison by Luke Harding