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Blowing up Russia: The Book that Got Litvinenko Murdered

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It was one of those events that, with hindsight, gains ever greater significance until it seems both to sum up an era, and to herald a new one. I, like Harding, sat through the inquiry into Litvinenko’s murder, which lasted for much of the first half of last year. A vitally important book co-written by Alexander Litvinenko, the victim of polonium poisoning at the hand of Putin’s agents, and Russian expatriate historian Yuri Felshtinsky.

Luke Harding served as the Guardian’s Moscow correspondent, and ran into enough trouble there to provide material for his 2011 book, The Mafia State. Even allowing for the hyperbole, it is clear that Kovtun and Lugovoy do have extensive experience in the investigation business. And duty was important to Litvinenko; his constant refrain to those who would listen was that he had always behaved loyally and honestly. Imagine someone handing you a document classified “top secret”; the anticipation builds as you turn the page.

I read his moving statement and was impressed at his personal bravery and stoical response to events. Indeed, the subheading of the book is “the definitive story of the murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West. Luke Harding, an experienced Guardian journalist and the paper’s former Moscow correspondent, has long followed the story. Volodarsky took a case that devastated a nation and brought us the case behind the death as well as the aftermath. Myriad theories have been put forward since he died, but the story goes back to 2000 when hostilities were declared between the Kremlin and its political opponents.

Invited to take part in the investigation, Boris collaborated with SO15 and served as a main consultant to the BBC Panorama documentary “How to Poison a Spy” (BBC One, Monday, 22 Jan 2007 at 20:30). It is known that Lugovoy is a partner in the Pershin drinks factory in the city of Ryazan, 120 miles south-east of Moscow, which produces mead, wine and kvas, a traditional Russian brew made from fermented bread. They had met at her thirty-first birthday party and she always said Sasha had been her very special present.This is a war that has blown hot and cold for over seven years; a war that has pitted some of Russia’s strongest, richest men against the most powerful president Russia has had since Josef Stalin. But while Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine is beyond doubt, is it really inconceivable that the West wasn’t whiter than white in the conflict?

They were questioned at the airport, but there was no reason to stop them entering the country; other than the intuitive feeling of one man. For the Russian President’s supporters can point to arguments and facts prematurely and hastily discarded as evidence of bias. His name was Vyacheslav Sokolenko, in his late thirties, three years younger than the other two, but also a graduate of the Moscow military academy and acquainted with Kovtun and Lugovoy for many years. While I applaud the author’s willingness to engage with his readers, it would have been much better had Harding explained this in greater depth in the book itself. Some of the discrepancies may be the result of deliberate misinformation by some of the parties involved, and resolving them is crucial for the establishment of guilt and innocence in the crime that was committed.

The one thing they all had in common was nuisance value in varying degrees - to the Russian State/Putin. He examines the role of the police, the courts, and the public enquiry that damned Putin and his cronies so comprehensively. As an agent in Russia’s FSB, Litvinenko blew the whistle on systemic corruption and was persecuted for it. There’s a lot of complicated relationships, political structures, intelligence talk – yet he makes it all so accessible to the average reader, while also never neglecting detail and information. The author talks about Putin and how he came to be elected the Russian president after Yeltsin and tells the story of the evolution of the Russian secret service after the breakup of the USSR.

This book is highly recommended for both those who know the issues, but also for those who are starting to inform themselves about how Putin’s Russia operates and its tentacles this book is also a good introduction. The forensic evidence suggests that either Lugovoi or Kovtun slipped it into Litvinenko’s cup of tea or water. It was hard to imagine that five weeks earlier, at the beginning of November, the world had never heard of Alexander Litvinenko, or Sasha as he was known to his friends. Andrei Sakharov’s emotional leave-taking in 1989, when weeping thousands lined the streets of Moscow; the murdered Russian mafiosnik whose burial party I saw decimated by a graveside bomb . Harding’s thesis is that the murder of Litvinenko was the first shot, if you will, of covert conflict with the west.Oligarchs come and go in the Putin court – the mighty can become mightier (and richer) and can fall quickly, lose everything, including their lives. This is possibly the first serious book to look at the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, post the publication of the official inquiry.

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