- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2006

From combined dispatches

MOSCOW — A team of British police investigating the poisoning of a former KGB agent arrived in Moscow yesterday as the Russian foreign minister warned that continued suggestions of Kremlin involvement in the death could damage diplomatic relations.

Alexander Litvinenko died Nov. 23 in London after ingesting the radioactive isotope polonium 210. In a deathbed statement, he blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin — an accusation the Kremlin has vehemently denied.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said suggestions in Britain of high-level Russian involvement in the death were “unacceptable,” adding: “It is of course damaging our relations.”

Both Russia and Britain say Mr. Litvinenko’s death should not be politicized, Mr. Lavrov added.

“If there are any questions, they should be put through law-enforcement agencies,” Interfax quoted him as saying.

British Home Secretary John Reid said in Brussels that Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett had been in touch with Moscow “and they have assured us we’ll get all the cooperation necessary.”

Associates of Mr. Litvinenko have said that either the Kremlin was involved in the killing or that rogue elements in Russia’s state security service were responsible.

Italy’s foreign minister said he would ask Mr. Putin in Moscow today to help the British police in their investigation.

Radiation has been found at a number of sites in London and on two British Airways planes that traveled the Moscow-London route since Nov. 1, when Mr. Litvinenko is thought to have been poisoned. Yesterday, British authorities said they were investigating two additional central London locations.

The British detectives are likely to try to interview Russian citizens who met Mr. Litvinenko at London’s Millennium Hotel on Nov. 1.

Andrei Lugovoy, a former KGB agent, says he and businessman Dmitry Kovtun met Mr. Litvinenko that day at the hotel. But Mr. Lugovoy, now back in Moscow, says they discussed a business opportunity and denies having anything to do with the poisoning.

Alex Goldfarb, a London-based friend of Mr. Litvinenko, said the British investigators should see another former KGB agent, Mikhail Trepashkin, who had what he called “substantive information.”

Trepashkin, serving a four-year sentence in a prison in the Urals for divulging state secrets, said in a letter last Friday that the FSB, the Russian state security service, had created a hit squad to kill Mr. Litvinenko and other enemies of the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, Mr. Litvinenko’s father said his son had requested that he be buried according to Muslim tradition.

“He converted to Islam when he was sick, at a point when he didn’t yet know he was going to die,” Walter Litvinenko told Agence France-Presse by telephone, confirming a Russian press report. “My son voiced the wish to be buried following Muslim custom.”

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