Alexander Litvinenko: A profile

PUBLISHED: 18:15 27 January 2015

Poisoned former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in hospital before his death in 2006

Poisoned former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in hospital before his death in 2006


As a secret agent, political dissident, author, husband and father, Alexander Litvinenko’s life was a complex and frequently dangerous one.

Known affectionately as Sasha, his biography reads like a template for a John Le Carre character.

He transferred from the Russian military to become a security agent under the Soviet-era KGB, now known as the FSB, in the late 1980s, specialising in organised crime and counter-terrorism.

A decade later he made a life-changing decision to voice concerns about deep-rooted FSB corruption and in 1997 publicly exposed an alleged plot to assassinate powerful tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

He was sacked, arrested and charged with corruption but later acquitted. In 2000 he fled to the UK and claimed asylum, becoming a relentless critic of Mr Putin’s regime, co-authoring several books.

One accused Russian agents of co-ordinating a series of apartment block bombings in 1999 that left more than 300 dead.

He denounced the war in Chechnya as a crime and started investigating the murder of journalist and Kremlin opponent Anna Politkovskaya, meeting former KGB agents Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun in the process.

Ms Politkovskaya was shot dead in the lift of her block of flats in Moscow. She had been a fierce critic of Mr Putin and won international awards for investigating and denouncing his policies, especially regarding the Chechen wars.

In June last year five men were sentenced for her murder, but it is still unclear who ordered or paid for the contract killing.

He laid the blame for her death at Mr Putin’s feet and, from his hospital bed, said he had “no doubt whatsoever” that Mr Putin had also directed the FSB to poison him.

In a statement made from his hospital bed at UCH in Euston, he said: “As I lie here I can distinctly hear the beating of wings of the angel of death.

“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.”

While Mr Litvinenko had taken measures to protect himself – his address was secret, he regularly changed his phone number and met contacts at busy, public locations – in the end his caution was not enough.

He and his family were granted British citizenship in a ceremony at Haringey Civic Centre just weeks before he died. He is buried in Highgate Cemetery in Swain’s Lane.

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