Sunday, 14 February 2016

Marina L: “He started to lose his hair, and when I came to see him it was exactly what you saw in the picture in the newspaper.

This famous photograph was taken on Tuesday 21st November. Watson doesn’t refer to it, but equally well-known was the ‘deathbed statement’, signed by Mr Litvinenko on the same day, and discussed at some length in Sir Robert Owen’s report (3.143). Here is the full text:

“I would like to thank many people. My doctors, nurses and hospital staff who are doing all they can for me; the British Police who are pursuing my case with rigour and professionalism and are watching over me and my family. I would like to thank the British Government for taking me under their care. I am honoured to be a British citizen.
I would like to thank the British public for their messages of support and for the interest they have shown in my plight.
I thank my wife, Marina, who has stood by me. My love for her and our son knows no bounds.
But as I lie here I can distinctly hear the beating of wings of the angel of death. I may be able to give him the slip but I have to say my legs do not run as fast as I would like. I think, therefore, that this may be the time to say one or two things to the person responsible for my present condition.
You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.
You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value.
You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women.
You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.”
The statement was signed in manuscript by Mr Litvinenko, and dated 21 November 2006.”

Litvinenko’s conviction that Putin had ordered his death was genuine. However it reflected a somewhat inflated sense of his own importance, and did not in any case fulfil most people’s criteria for rationality. The following excerpt from an article by Boris Volodarsky, ‘Alexander Litvinenko: A very Russian poisoning’, which appeared in the Telegraph on 2nd December 2009, helps to illustrate Litvinenko’s predilection for wildly overblown rhetoric:

“On October 7, 2006, news came from Moscow announcing the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. Sasha [Alexander] showed no hesitation in pointing the finger at the man he believed responsible. 'Only one person in Russia could kill a journalist of her standing, only one person could sanction her death,’ he told an audience at Paddington’s Frontline Club. ‘And this person is Putin.’”

With all due respect – what is Litvinenko talking about? Anna Politkovskaya was an unprotected woman in a very big city with a fairly high crime rate, who had devoted much of her working life to documenting the situation in Chechnya. No doubt Litvinenko suspected Putin – he may very well also have wanted to believe it was Putin. However, the categorical terms of his accusation border on the infantile. A member of the audience at the Frontline Club that day was Vladimir Bukovsky, another well-known Soviet dissident. Owen’s report lends weight to the idea that Litvinenko was sometimes given to adolescent modes of behaviour, when it says at 3.109:

“Mrs Litvinenko described Mr Bukovsky as Mr Litvinenko’s “guru”, and the “greatest contact” that he had. Mr Bukovsky said that he talked to Mr Litvinenko about the history of KGB repression during the twentieth century, of which Mr Litvinenko had previously been unaware. He said that Mr Litvinenko would sometimes telephone him “20, 30 times a day, including the night time” and that Mr Litvinenko also travelled to see him at his home.”

Allowing for Russians’ propensity to exaggerate, and assuming therefore that in reality this was more like 10 or 20 times a day, including the night time – this still is not normal adult behaviour. The deathbed statement too is almost childishly polemical, though the idea for it did not solely originate from, and nor was it written by, Alexander Litvinenko. Having been drafted in English by Litvinenko’s solicitor George Menzies, it was principally the work of Menzies and Alex Goldfarb, who testified…

“…that the idea had emerged “naturally”, “between me and George Menzies and Sasha [Litvinenko]”, because Mr Litvinenko “was so adamant in trying to get across the message that the Kremlin and Putin poisoned him”.

Goldfarb and Menzies ran the statement past Lord Tim Bell, Berezovsky’s PR guru, who said he was initially opposed, but then came round to the idea. All of which gives this paragraph in Owen’s report (3.144) the feel almost of the script for a comedy sketch:

“Doubts have been expressed as to the authenticity of [the deathbed] statement, or at least as to the extent to which it represented Mr Litvinenko’s views. I therefore took detailed evidence on this subject. The key witnesses, who all gave oral evidence, were George Menzies, Mr Goldfarb, Marina Litvinenko and Lord Bell.”[my emphasis]

One might as well ask the people behind Berezovsky’s T-shirt to give their views on the extent to which Andrei Lugovoy was responsible for its design.  

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