A Very Expensive Poison by Luke Harding

By Luke Harding

1 November 2006. Alexander Litvinenko is overtly poisoned in valuable London. Twenty days later he dies, killed from the interior. The poison? Polonium; a unprecedented, deadly and hugely radioactive substance. His crime? He had made a few strong enemies in Russia.

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Sample text

The KGB recruited him in 1975 after he finished Leningrad University. Putin’s world view reflected the a priori thinking of the KGB. The agency was suspicious, paranoid and prone to conspiratorial reasoning. Putin was convinced that the US and the western world were engaged in an unsleeping plot against the Soviet Union. Virtually all the graduates from the KGB institute got jobs afterwards in the first directorate and were sent to foreign ‘residencies’, as the KGB termed its covert offices abroad.

He avoided eye contact and behaved as if he was not the Director but an actor playing the Director’s role on stage. He looked at my schematic, made some face movements as if he was studying it for a couple of minutes. Asked a couple of questions – ‘What is this? ’ – pointing at random points in the scheme. But he obviously could not grasp the details in that short while. ’ I thought. ’ I asked. ‘No, no, thank you. You keep it. ’ Litvinenko handed Putin a list of FSB officers whom he regarded as ‘clean’, and remarked that there were still ‘honest people in the system’.

At the time, Berezovsky scarcely knew Litvinenko, the good Samaritan. Afterwards, he said, they became ‘very close’. ’ Litvinenko was still working for the FSB but from then on became an informal part of Berezovsky’s entourage. Meanwhile, Litvinenko was growing disenchanted with the leadership of his own organisation. The FSB was riddled with corruption, he learned. In 1997, he was posted to the FSB’s directorate for the investigation and prevention of organised crime, a covert unit known by the initials URPO.

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