Ex-Spy Claims Litvinenko Was Targeted
Friday, December 1, 2006; 9:36 AM
MOSCOW -- A former Russian security service officer said he warned a former KGB agent who was fatally poisoned in London about a government-sponsored death squad that intended to kill him and other Kremlin opponents.
In a letter released Friday, the former officer for the Federal Security Service, or FSB, said he refused to cooperate with the team, whose task was to kill Alexander Litvinenko and others. The FSB is the successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB.
Litvinenko, the former spy turned Kremlin critic who lived in Britain, died Nov. 23 at a London hospital, where doctors found traces of the rare radioactive element polonium-210 in his body. An autopsy was scheduled for Friday and doctors carrying out the examination planned safety precautions to protect themselves against radiation.
In a deathbed statement, Litvinenko blamed President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning _ charges the Kremlin rejected as "sheer nonsense."
"Back in 2002, I warned Alexander Litvinenko that they set up a special team to kill him," the former security services officer, Mikhail Trepashkin, wrote in the letter dated Nov. 23 _ the day of Litvinenko's death. The letter was released Friday by rights activists in Yekaterinburg, the center of the Ural Mountains province where he is serving his four-year sentence.
"Maybe, the death of Alexander Litvinenko, who fell victim to unpunished revenge, could force those dealing with human rights issues to finally pay attention to these facts."
An FSB spokesman refused to comment on Trepashkin's claim.
Trepashkin was arrested in October 2003 and convicted on charges of divulging state secrets while investigating allegations of FSB involvement in a series of deadly apartment bombings that killed about 300 people in Moscow and two other cities in 1999. The government blamed the explosions on Chechnya-based rebels, but Litvinenko and other Kremlin critics alleged they were staged by authorities as a pretext for launching the current Chechen war.
The FSB, where Trepashkin worked until 1997, alleged that he had been recruited by British agents to collect compromising materials on the explosions with the aim of discrediting the Russian security agency.
Trepashkin said in his letter that after his arrest authorities had put him in a cell contaminated with poisonous chemicals and threatened to kill him.
"Litvinenko and I aren't the last in this chain of victims of persecution," he wrote. "Maybe Litvinenko's death could make you believe in what he was saying."
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that Moscow was ready to answer concrete questions from Britain concerning Litvinenko's death, Russian news agencies reported.
"When the questions are formulated and sent through the existing channels, we will consider them thoroughly," Lavrov was quoted as saying in Jordan by the ITAR-Tass news agency. "There have been no such questions yet."
Traces of radiation have been found at a dozen sites in Britain and five jetliners were being investigated for possible contamination as authorities widened their investigation into Litvinenko's poisoning.
A coroner on Thursday formally opened an inquest into Litvinenko's death.
Doctors in Moscow have said they believed Yegor Gaidar, a former premier and head of a liberal opposition party, may also have been poisoned during a conference Nov. 24 in Ireland.
British Airways said Friday that one of its planes that has been parked at a Moscow airport would fly to London later in the day for a radiation check. Traces of radiation were found on it and two other aircraft that have traveled the Moscow-London route since Nov. 1, when Litvinenko is believed to have been poisoned.