The British government announced today that it will hold a public inquiry into the murder of KGB agent-turned-dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with radioactive polonium in London in 2006. The public inquiry, unlike a previously held inquest, can consider classified information in closed sessions, and it will directly examine whether Moscow was responsible. The Financial Times reports:
The decision by Theresa May, home secretary, comes during a period of tense relations between Russia and the west over Ukraine and the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines aeroplane there last week, for which the international community blames Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine.In February, the High Court ordered Ms May to reconsider her decision that an inquest into Litvinenko’s 2006 death was sufficient. But the announcement comes as David Cameron, prime minister, calls for tougher EU sanctions against Russia to be imposed at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels. The timing of the move is unlikely to be seen by Moscow as coincidental.The Home Office described the death of Litvinenko as an “appalling crime” and expressed a desire to see those responsible prosecuted through the courts.
Litvinenko ran a bureau of the FSB, the post-Soviet name for the KGB, which Russian President Vladmir Putin once headed. After accusing his superiors of murder, he went on the run and sought asylum in London. The British government previously accused a Russian Federal Protective Service officer, Andrey Lugovoy, of his murder, but refused to pursue matters further up the chain of command in Moscow.Now, that may be changing. The decision to open the public inquiry is an about-face: David Cameron’s government had previously declined to do so, citing diplomatic considerations, among other factors.Laying out the case for Vladmir Putin or his government sanctioning a murder on British soil would increase Russia’s pariah status, as well as provide the basis for further sanctions. Britain may have found a pressure point, and we might be about to find out the answer to one of the great, real-life spy mysteries of our time.