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By Philippe Legrain ADD COMMENTS

I don’t usually write about such matters, but I am so shocked and outraged by the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in London that I feel compelled to comment.

The death of Mr Litvinenko – a bitter foe of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin – bears all
the hallmarks of a political murder.

Getting your hands on enough
radioactive polonium – the apparent murder weapon – to poison someone
requires access to a nuclear reactor or a particle accelerator,
according to Professor Dudley Goodhead, of the Medical Research Council
& Genome
Stability Unit. That narrows the field of potential suspects

Despite official assurances that they have turned over a
new leaf, it is well-documented that Russian spies have made a habit of using sophisticated poisons to eliminate their enemies. Indeed, even if
common criminals could somehow have obtained some polonium, why would they
bother using such esoteric means to kill Mr Litvinenko when they could more easily have had him stabbed or shot?

In short, although there is no concrete proof as
yet, it is certainly reasonable to believe that the Kremlin had a hand
in the murder of Mr Litvinenko, who himself pointed the finger at Putin before he died. The Russian authorities certainly had both motive and means, as well as reasons to try to cover their tracks. Pointedly, the SVR, the KGB’s new guise,
went to the lengths of denying responsibility – not because killing Mr Livninenko was inconceivable or wrong,
but because it was said not to be worth the damage to
relations with Britain.

How should the West react?

John Thornhill writes in the FT that:

the west should remain open to the Russian
people. Western European countries should, if anything, ease visa
restrictions for Russian visitors and encourage young Russians to study
abroad. EU countries should encourage mutually beneficial business,
financial and cultural ties wherever possible.

However, Europe
must remain united in the face of any intimidation and not allow the
Kremlin to play one country off against another. EU countries should
reduce their dependence on Russian energy supplies if Moscow is going
to regard them as a political tool. They should continue to denounce
human rights abuses in Chechnya – and elsewhere – as being incompatible
with the standards of the international organisations to which Russia
belongs. And Britain should be firm in prosecuting whoever is
responsible for Alexander Litvinenko’s death, no matter where the
investigation leads.

Quite right too.

Posted 25 Nov 2006 in Blog

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