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Putin and the Litvinenko verdict

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin – RTX1EM1D
Putin and the Litvinenko verdict
Article by: Vitaliy Portnikov
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

On Thursday, January 21, London High Court Judge Robert Owen announced his verdict in the murder case of the former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko.

The judge emphasized that the direct perpetrators were businessman Dmitry Kovtun and former FSB officer Andrei Lugovoi, who “acted on the instruction of third parties.”

The question is who were these third parties. Sir Robert is sure that the murder was a special FSB operation, which probably was approved by the then head of the department (and the current secretary of the Russian Security Council) Nikolai Patrushev and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Therefore, these people are not simply war criminals. They are also commonplace murderers. And now they and their fellow citizens will have to live with that thought. The decision by the London High Court was expected, and there was virtually no doubt that the decision would mention the involvement of Russian leadership in the crime. But the judge clearly and unambiguously named names. The word “probably” should not mislead anyone. The judge, naturally, would not pronounce “guilty” before the completion of the investigation and the court trial with the participation of those who had ordered the crime. And this is the main problem for Putin and Patrushev. A lifetime problem.

It is not yet clear what action the British Government will take after the announcement of the verdict. London, which already has complicated relations with Moscow, may decide to forego new sanctions in light of the need to continue negotiations on Syria and the Donbas settlement. In fact, the British Government was not at all eager to aggravate relations with Russia over the Litvinenko case. The reason that a public inquiry was even held and that the judge was able to announce his verdict is entirely due to the efforts of Litvinenko’s widow, Marina Litvinenko. In order to have the public inquiry, Marina sued the British Government  and won a court battle (overturning the Home Office’s earlier decision to rule out an inquiry– Ed.). In a democratic world these things happen.

And the issue is not simply the fact that the British Government will now have to take into account the results of the hearing. What is important is that Putin is the defendant. He cannot know when and in what country and under what circumstances a judge can order his arrest. Such was the fate of the Chilean President Augusto Pinochet, who his entire life was followed by the shadows of the people he had destroyed and by justice. If not Spanish justice, then British. Pinochet could not have even imagined that he, a senator for life, would be detained in Britain on the order of a Spanish judge.

It is true that he never did face justice and that after several months of house arrest was able to return to Chile. But one can only imagine what such public humiliation meant for such a figure.

Moreover, Putin is no Pinochet. He is simply a criminal official from the era of the Ukrainian Maidans. Pinochet still had supporters after he lost power. Despite all his crimes, he remained a significant political figure, a great reformer, the friend of many leading Western politicians. And Putin? Putin’s only likely supporter if he loses power will be Patrushev.

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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