Widow of Russian Spy Fights for Justice

29 March, 2016

The widow of a murdered Russian spy continues to try to bring her husband's killers to justice.

Marina Litvinenko is the widow of Alexander Litvinenko. She spoke at the VOA offices this month.

Ms. Litvinenko displayed a thick document showing that a British court said the death of her husband was murder. The court said the murder was probably ordered by Russia's top leaders.

Marina Litvinenko at the Voice of America headquarters in Washington, DC
Marina Litvinenko at the Voice of America headquarters in Washington, DC

Alexander Litvinenko was an intelligence agent of the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB. He was granted asylum in Britain in 2000. He became a well-known critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was said to have started working with British intelligence officials, providing details of Russia's organized crime networks and of President Putin himself.

On November 1, 2006, Litvinenko had tea at a London hotel with two men from the FSB, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun. Litvinenko's cup of tea contained Polonium 210, a radioactive element that can only be made in a nuclear reactor. Litvinenko died 23 days later.

Shortly before he died, Litvinenko accused President Putin of killing him.

In the nearly 10 years since his death, his widow, Marina, has worked to prove that the Kremlin killed her husband. She said she considers the recent ruling by the British court a step in uncovering the mysterious deaths of other Russian dissidents.

"But this one now is a proof. We have this in a verdict about Russian State involvement ..."

The British court's verdict came in January. Investigator Robert Owen led the British Court of Inquiry. The court issued a report that connected Lugovoy, Kovtun and, by extension, Vladimir Putin with Litinenko's assassination.

Robert Owen concluded that all the evidence suggests Livinenko's murder was an FSB operation. The operation was approved at the highest level of the Kremlin.

"I have further concluded that the FSB operation to kill Mr. Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr. Patrushev, then head of the FSB, and also by President Putin."

Marina Litvinenko said she is pleased with the verdict. But she is not giving up her effort to bring her husband's killers to justice. She came to Washington this month to meet with government officials, foreign policy experts and journalists.

During her visit to VOA, she said she was outraged that those who killed her husband for political reasons have escaped punishment. Instead, they have been protected and rewarded, she said.

"These people committed a very serious crime. And Lugovoy was not even punished for this crime. He was granted. He is a member of Russian parliament. He became a politician straight after."

FILE - A man looks at a portrait of ex-spy Andrei Litvinenko by Russian artists Dmitry Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeyeva in the Marat Guelman gallery in Moscow.
FILE - A man looks at a portrait of ex-spy Andrei Litvinenko by Russian artists Dmitry Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeyeva in the Marat Guelman gallery in Moscow.

Russian officials have strongly denied any state involvement in the assassination. Russia's Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Alexander Yakovenko, read a statement to reporters, rejecting the charges.

"We view it as an attempt to put additional pressure on Russia in connection with existing differences over a number of international issues. For us, it's absolutely unacceptable that the report concludes that the Russian state was in any way involved in the death of Mr. Litvinenko on the British soil."

Marina Litvinenko said she doubts that those named by the British Court of Inquiry will be prosecuted for her husband's death anytime soon.

But she promised to continue her protest. She said she hopes her efforts highlight what she says is the continuing operation of Kremlin-sponsored killing groups in foreign cities.

She discussed at VOA the mysterious death of Litvinenko's mentor, Boris Berezovsky, who was found hanged in his bathroom in 2014. He strongly opposed Putin. She also mentioned the death of financier Mikhail Lesin, who was beaten to death last November while in Washington.

"Of course, when very high profile people as Lesin and Boris Berezovsky died, it is difficult to believe it was just natural causes..."

Litvinenko also said she believes the work done by Owen and the British court on her husband's death will help in the investigation of the deaths of Berezovsky, Lesin and other Russian dissidents abroad.

I'm Ashley Thompson.

Pete Heinlein wrote this report for VOA News. Ashley Thompson adapted it for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in This Story

widow - n. a woman whose husband has died

display - v. to put (something) where people can see it

Kremlin - n. the government of Russia and the former Soviet Union

verdict - n. the decision made by a jury in a trial

outraged - v. to be extremely angry

highlight - v. to make or try to make people notice or be aware of (someone or something)

sponsor - v. to provide money or support for a project or activity