Updated Sep 21, 2021 - World

Russia to blame for Litvinenko's killing, European court rules

 The grave of Alexander Litvinenko at Highgate Cemetery  in London, England.
The grave of Alexander Litvinenko at Highgate Cemetery in London. Photo: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday that Russia "was responsible for the assassination of Aleksandr Litvinenko" in London.

Why it matters: Former KGB officer Litvinenko, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, died in 2006 after being poisoned in London with Polonium 210, a rare radioactive isotope. Russia has always denied any involvement in his death.

What they found: The court noted in its ruling that a public inquiry in the United Kingdom found in 2016 that Litvinenko's killing had been carried out by former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, a businessman and former KGB agent. The U.K. inquiry said Putin "probably approved" the killing.

  • "The Court found in particular that there was a strong prima facie case that, in poisoning Mr Litvinenko, Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun had been acting as agents of the Russian State," the European court said.
  • Lugovoi and Kovtun have always denied being involved in the killing, but the European court said it was "beyond reasonable doubt" that the pair were behind it.
"The planned and complex operation involving the procurement of a rare deadly poison, the travel arrangements for the pair, and repeated and sustained attempts to administer the poison indicated that Mr Litvinenko had been the target of the operation."
— Excerpt from European court ruling

The bottom line: "Had the pair been involved in a 'rogue operation,' the information to prove that theory would lie entirely in the Russian authorities' hands," the European court concludes.

  • "However, the Government had made no serious attempt to provide such information or to counter the findings of the UK authorities."

Driving the news: Litvinenko's widow, Marina Litvinenko, brought the case against Russia to the Strasbourg-based rights court.

Of note: Lugovoi was elected in 2007 as a member of the Russian State Duma, the lower house of the country's parliament. He was awarded a state medal "for services to the fatherland" in 2015.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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