- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

MOSCOW — The poisoning of Russia’s relations with the West continued yesterday, with Britain discovering traces of the same radioactive substance that killed former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko at a London stadium where an associate attended a soccer game.

Britain also found traces of radiation at its embassy in Moscow, and British detectives announced for the first time that they were investigating Mr. Litvinenko’s Nov. 23 death at a London hospital as a suspected homicide.

Traces of polonium 210, which killed Mr. Litvinenko, were found at London’s Emirates Stadium. Another former Russian spy, Andrei Lugovoi, attended a soccer match there on Nov. 1 after meeting with Mr. Litvinenko at a London hotel. Mr. Litvinenko fell ill hours after the meeting and died three weeks later.

Mr. Lugovoi also visited the British Embassy in Moscow to make a statement shortly after Mr. Litvinenko’s death, the London Daily Telegraph reported. He has denied any involvement in Mr. Litvinenko’s poisoning.

“No matter how the investigation turns out, this incident has already damaged Russia’s relations with the outside world,” said Masha Lipman, a political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

The element is so rare that quantities needed to kill someone must be made in a nuclear reactor or particle accelerator. Such facilities are available only at advanced nuclear facilities owned by governments or research institutions such as universities, which are closely monitored.

Traces of the element found at the stadium and numerous sites thus far are too minute to pose a health threat, officials say.

A team of Scotland Yard detectives arrived this week in Moscow, where they faced tight restrictions from Russian authorities.

Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika said Tuesday that British police would be allowed only to listen as Russian officials interviewed witnesses.

He also said that Russia would refuse to extradite any suspects in the killing, insisting they face justice in Russian courts.

Mr. Chaika indicated that the refusal to extradite was linked with London’s repeated denial of requests that high-profile Russian exiles, such as tycoon Boris Berezovsky, be sent to Moscow to face criminal charges.

In London yesterday, police said the investigation had “reached the stage where it is felt appropriate to treat it as an allegation of murder.”

“It is important to stress that we have reached no conclusions as to the means employed, the motive or the identity of those who might be responsible for Mr. Litvinenko’s death,” police said.

In a deathbed accusation, Mr. Litvinenko blamed Russian authorities, and Russian President Vladimir Putin personally, for the poisoning.

Some Kremlin critics have said Mr. Litvinenko was poisoned as part of a campaign to silence Mr. Putin’s opponents and linked his killing to the slaying in October of crusading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

The Kremlin has called such accusations nonsense, pointing out that not a shred of evidence connects Russian authorities to Mr. Litvinenko’s death.

Even many long-standing critics of Mr. Putin doubt the president was involved in the killing, saying Mr. Litvinenko was little more than a minor irritant to the Kremlin.

“It just doesn’t make sense. There was no reason to kill him,” said Boris Kagarlitsky, an independent political analyst in Moscow.

At the same time Mr. Kagarlitsky said: “This may be part of an internal struggle for power within the Russian elite.”

Many security analysts suspect rogue elements in Russia’s security services were behind the killing, either as a warning to Kremlin critics or in an attempt to drive a wedge between Russia and the West.

Regardless of who killed Mr. Litvinenko, the damage to Russia’s international reputation has been done, Carnegie’s Ms. Lipman said.

“Russia’s image, which wasn’t great even prior to this, is getting worse,” she said. “The fact that so many people in the West were ready to accept theories [of Kremlin involvement] that are unsubstantiated at this point shows how low Russia’s reputation has fallen.”

c This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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