By JIM HEINTZ
The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 23, 2007; 9:15 AM
MOSCOW -- Late one night in April 1998, three government security agents met at a guest house outside Moscow to make an extraordinary video in which they claimed their bosses had ordered them to kill, kidnap and frame prominent Russians.
The tape, the Federal Security Service officers said, was a kind of insurance, to be released only if something happened to one of them.
Now one of them, Alexander Litvinenko, is dead, poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope in London last November.
British police on Tuesday accused another ex-KGB agent, Andrei Lugovoi, in the killing. No motive was stated. Lugovoi denied involvement, saying the decision by British officials was politically motivated.
The tape, though, suggests that from the time Litvinenko first blew the whistle on his bosses almost a decade ago, he knew he was a marked man.
It captures the moment when an anguished young agent first stepped out of the shadowy world of the Russian intelligence services and, perhaps, sealed his fate.
"If these people are not stopped, this lawlessness will flood the country," he says on the tape. It would, he said, be worse than in 1937, when Stalin staged a series of purges called the Great Terror.
In the video Litvinenko and his colleagues sit on couches with Russian journalist Sergei Dorenko, speaking solemnly of their repugnance at the violence and immorality they claim had infected the Federal Security Service, or FSB, an agency they were once proud to serve.
More than six months later, Litvinenko repeated many of the same startling accusations at a news conference _ including that he had been ordered to kill Boris Berezovsky, one of post-Soviet Russia's most notorious tycoons and, at the time, an influential Kremlin insider.
That news conference, in which Litvinenko appeared with other alleged FSB men disguised in masks or dark glasses, was later regarded by critics as a ruse engineered by Berezovsky. But Litvinenko told the same account in the tape that he didn't intend to make public.
Dorenko, now a talk-show host on the independent-minded Ekho Moskvy radio station, showed a few excerpts of the tape on TV in 1998 after Litvinenko's news conference, but the full video has not been broadcast. Dorenko made the tape available to The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal.
In the tape, Litvinenko also contends he was ordered to beat up or plant a weapon on Mikhail Trepashkin, another former FSB agent who was imprisoned several years later for revealing state secrets.
The videotaped claim appears prophetic: Trepashkin, who investigated claims the FSB was behind a series of apartment building explosions that killed about 300 people in 1999, was arrested in 2003 after police said they found a gun in his car. His lawyers said the weapon was planted.
Trepashkin was convicted of disclosing state secrets, and is now in prison. Amnesty International has said that the charges "appear to have been politically motivated," and in 2005 accused the Russian government of denying him medical treatment.
Another man in the tape identifies himself as Alexander Gusak, Litvinenko's direct superior, and says there was talk in the FSB of kidnapping Umar Dzhabrailov, a wealthy Chechen businessman.
In the tape, Litvinenko is casually dressed, with a full head of thick hair and an intent manner _ a haunting contrast to the photos of his last days, which showed him lying in a hospital bed, bald, listless and staring into the distance.
The Litvinenko captured on tape eight years earlier admits he is worried, but insists he is not fearful.
"I do understand that a security officer is not supposed to give interviews or appear on television," he said. "But now I realize the time has come. If I were afraid, I wouldn't do what I do now. But I fear for the life of my wife, my child."
Gusak, too, says on the tape he believes the situation in the agency had become intolerable.
"The reason we have gotten you out of bed," he says to Dorenko, was to describe actions by the agency "which contradict the current law, with the criminal code and, we will say it directly, do not meet our moral demands." Gusak could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Litvinenko claimed he was ordered to kill Berezovsky by Alexander Kamyshnikov, one of his superiors in the anti-crime department. "He was sitting at his desk, then he stood up and said 'You should kill Berezovsky.'" Litvinenko says. "That was in the presence of three other officers."
Kamyshnikov denied the allegations in 1998.
Although Berezovsky does not appear in the video, he is an almost inescapable presence in it: Litvinenko had reportedly worked with the tycoon while still in the FSB. At the time of the taping, Dorenko worked for ORT television, which then was under Berezovsky's control.
Litvinenko received support from Berezovsky after both of them fled to Britain in 2000 and were granted political asylum.
This year, Russian state television reported that Litvinenko allegedly forced another Russian in London to pretend to be an FSB agent sent there to poison Berezovsky. According to the report, Berezovsky used the phony plot to plead for asylum.
Berezovsky has denied the allegation.
The implication, perhaps, was that Berezovsky may have ordered Litvinenko's poisoning in order to eliminate a witness to the alleged ruse.
In Russia, there is widespread speculation that Litvinenko was killed by foes of the Kremlin to discredit President Vladimir Putin. In the West, suspicion has fallen on Russia's security services, acting with or without the support of the Kremlin.
Dorenko said he believes Putin, who became FSB director a few months after the tape was made, had a hand in Litvinenko's death.
"Putin surely must have nodded his approval, meaning kind of yes, work on that," Dorenko said. "Of course, he didn't say, 'Kill him with polonium.' He was simply told, the guy had crossed the boundary, the guy had gone too far."
The Russian government has denied any involvement in Litvinenko's death.
Dorenko, who was an anchorman with ORT until he was fired in 2000, said he did not look into Litvinenko's accusations at the time because of the risk. "Frankly speaking, I was scared to investigate those cases, " he said. He also feared for the fate of his sources.
Dorenko stored the tape with friends until the time came for him to follow Gusak's directions.
"If something happens to one of my comrades," Gusak tells the camera, "only then would we want what we have now told you to be made public."
(This version CORRECTS that Lugovoi has been accused but not yet formally charged.)