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UK–Russia And The Litvinenko Paradox – OpEd


The recent report by the Sir Robert Owen inquiry came out with a decidedly known report that it was at the behest of the Kremlin; Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in London in 2006. The facts of the case are this. Litvinenko was a former KGB officer turned Putin critic who was living in London and was in a moderate stipend by the MI6 for his expertise in understanding the Russian mafia in Europe. The British and Spanish intelligence were working at the same time jointly to unearth Russian mafia ties with the populist parties and the mafia in Spain, and Litvinenko was providing valuable information regarding that. In 2006, Litvinenko was visited by his two former colleagues; one of them is a current MP in Russian Duma, and both of them former intelligence officers. After drinking from a poisoned cup of tea, Litvinenko started vomiting and the rest, as they say, is history.

Litvinenko was a fierce critic of the current Russian president Vladimir Putin, and even claiming rather bizarrely the Putin was a deviant, to put it mildly. He also was critical of the Russian coterie of former intelligence officials who surround Putin. He was therefore poisoned by Polonium, a highly radioactive substance, with alpha radiation qualities, which are extremely hard to determine, and died subsequently a horrible, slow and painful death. His wife Marina Litvinenko and his son carried on the fight, which resulted in this enquiry and subsequent finding of the crime. The operatives accused of killing Litvinenko apparently irradiated and left a trail of radioactivity near the British embassy, in London, which is almost similar to a minor scale nuclear warfare.

The enquiry said that there is no doubt, that Putin “probably” ordered the murder, although the evidence for this assertion is circumstantial at best. While there is a certainty that Litvinenko was murdered by former intelligence officials, who are now extremely close to Putin, Litvinenko in his lifetime manages to cheese off a lot of his former colleagues, and any of them could have ordered the hit. But it highlights another important paradox in UK Russia and in broader aspect the EU Russia relations.

Readers know, and I have written about it before, how Europe is facing a dilemma in dealing with Russia. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold war, Russian and European relations have been decidedly confusing and mixed. The global economy is entwined and Russia and Europe has now business ties which run in billions. A case in point here is Germany, which is surprisingly finding it difficult to deal with Russia having a major business relationship with its former adversary. German business class is against sanctions against Russia, having ties that run deep, and the latest evidence is the Nordstream pipeline. If Germany being the mightiest economic power in the entire EU has problem in deciding how to deal with a revanchist Russia, one can only imagine how Britain will fare?

Britain under both the Labour and Conservatives were skeptical of being too harsh to Russia, and the reason is again economic. London is flooded with Russian money, and the English real estate is essentially controlled by oligarchs and Russian billionaires. From English football clubs, to English food packaging, Russian oligarchs are major players. And among these oligarchs are both Russian billionaires who are extremely close to Kremlin and Putin, and those who are viciously critical of the Russian regime.

That has resulted in a kind of turf war in the middle of England, which the British government is now being unable to control. For the sake of economic benefits and investments, they once let in dodgy characters from both sides, and now are reaping what they sow. The situation is now paradoxical. Imagine if the British government goes after perpetrators of this crime, it risks earning the ire of Russia which will stop the flow of Russian money, on which a huge part of London economy is dependent. If on the other hand, they don’t do anything, they lose credibility in the eyes of the World. But more importantly they lose something else as well. The Russian dissident oligarchs, and other capitalists who are investing in London, goes to London because it is a country with a rule of law, which gives them guaranteed safety. If London seems unable to provide that, then these oligarchs will stop coming to London. That itself makes this seemingly insignificant single murder of a former intelligence officer in the middle of London so pivotal.

This article appeared at Bombs and Dollars.

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Sumantra Maitra

Sumantra Maitra is a Doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK. He spends way too much time on Twitter, @MrMaitra

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