- The Washington Times - Friday, November 24, 2006

LONDON — British authorities said a rare and highly toxic radioactive substance was found in the body of a former KGB spy who accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of his killing in a statement dictated on his deathbed.

“You may succeed in silencing one man, but a howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life,” Alexander Litvinenko said in a statement read aloud by friends outside the hospital where he died.

“May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me, but to beloved Russia and its people,” said the statement, which Mr. Litvinenko dictated shortly before he died Thursday night.

The Russian president brushed off the charge as “political provocation,” but London said it had raised the “serious matter” of Mr. Litvinenko’s death with Moscow and asked it to give British police any information it had.

Britain’s top-level Cabinet team, know as COBRA, which gathers for civil emergencies, met three times to discuss Mr. Litvinenko’s death, a sign of escalating concern over the affair.

British health officials said a rare radioactive isotope, polonium 210, had been discovered in the body of the 43-year-old Kremlin critic.

Police were trying to work out how the radioactive poison entered the body of Mr. Litvinenko, who wasted away over three weeks, losing all his hair.

Police said traces of polonium 210 had been found at a sushi bar where Mr. Litvinenko met an Italian academic, at a hotel where he met another former Russian agent, both on the day he fell ill, and at his north London home.

“We know he had a major dose,” Health Protection Agency chief Pat Troop said.

Police were seen carrying metal boxes away from the sushi restaurant in central London.

“My son died yesterday. He was killed by a little, tiny nuclear bomb,” sad Mr. Litvinenko’s weeping father, Walter.

Dr. Andrea Sella, a lecturer in chemistry at University College London, told Reuters that polonium 210 was one of the rarest substances on the planet and few could obtain it.

“This is not some random killing. This is not a tool chosen by a group of amateurs. These people had some serious resources behind them,” he said.

Radiation and chemistry specialists say a nuclear reactor, particle accelerator or other large-scale nuclear facilities would be needed to produce sufficient amounts of polonium to kill someone.

The dying man’s accusation of what would amount to the first Kremlin assassination carried out in the West since the Cold War dogged Mr. Putin at an European Union summit in Helsinki. Mr. Putin said there was no evidence implicating the Kremlin.

“It is a great pity that even something as tragic as a man’s death is being used for political provocation,” Mr. Putin said. “I hope the British authorities would not contribute to instigating political scandals. It has nothing to do with reality.”

Mr. Litvinenko, who became a British citizen last month, was one of a group of Putin opponents who have clustered in London, including billionaire Boris Berezovsky and Chechen separatists.

A British Foreign Office spokeswoman said it had discussed the affair with the Russian ambassador in London.

“The ambassador was asked to convey to the authorities in Moscow to provide any information they might have that would assist the police with their inquiries,” she said.

A Russian ex-spy came forward in Moscow to acknowledge that he was the man who met Mr. Litvinenko at a London hotel with another Russian businessman the day he suddenly fell ill.

The man, Andrei Lugovoy, said they had met to discuss a business project at Mr. Litvinenko’s request and that he had nothing to do with the former spy’s death.

British anti-terrorism police investigating the case said officers could go to Russia to talk to him.

European countries depend on Mr. Putin’s Russia for natural gas and have big investments in oil companies there. Mr. Putin has been an ally of the West against Islamic extremism since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

But relations have been strained in recent years over what Western governments call Moscow’s backslide toward authoritarianism.

Mr. Litvinenko had been investigating the killing of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, also a vocal critic of Mr. Putin. She was fatally shot in her Moscow apartment building last month.

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