LiveLitvinenko inquiry reaction: As it happened

Summary

  1. President Putin "probably" approved murder of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, public inquiry concludes on 21 January, 2016
  2. Widow Marina Litvinenko "very pleased" with report and calls for UK government action against Russia
  3. Russian Foreign Ministry says inquiry was "politicised"
  4. Mr Litvinenko died in London in 2006 from effects of radiation poisoning

Live Reporting

By Emma Ailes and Martha Buckley

Summary of the day's events

We are ending our live coverage of reaction to the conclusions of the Litvinenko Inquiry here.

We leave you with a recap of the main events of the day.

  • Judge Sir Robert Owen's report on the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 concludes that Russian President Vladimir Putin "probably" approved his murder 
  • The long-awaited report found two Russian men - Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun - deliberately poisoned Mr Litvinenko by putting radioactive polonium-210 into his tea at a hotel
  • Mr Putin is likely to have signed off the poisoning in part due to personal "antagonism" between the pair, as well as because of his work for British intelligence agencies, criticism of Russian authorities, and association with other Russian dissidents, the report says.
  • David Cameron promises the UK is "toughening" its action against Russia. He says UK will have to continue "some sort of relationship with them [Russia]" but with "clear eyes and a very cold heart"
  • Russian Foreign Ministry reacts to the inquiry calling it "politicised" and saying it has "overshadowed the general atmosphere of bilateral relations"
  • Mr Putin's spokesman says Moscow's official response will happen through "diplomatic channels". Mr Putin himself has not commented, 
  • Home Secretary Theresa May faces criticisms from all parties in the Commons, including calls from Labour for the 2018 Fifa World Cup to be taken away from Russia
  • Widow Marina Litvinenko says she is "very pleased" with the report and calls for a UK government travel ban for Mr Putin and sanctions against Russia  
  • Russian suspect Andrei Lugovoi calls the allegations against him "absurd", while his fellow suspect Dmitry Kovtun says he will react once he has more information about the report findings

Kremlin: 'We didn't initiate this freezing of relations'

BBC Monitoring

Here's that quote from Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spoksman, in full, taken from the Russian news agency, Interfax.

This (investigation) can be seen as the product of the elegant sense of humour of the British, when a public and closed investigation rests on undisclosed information from unnamed intelligence services and the ample use of the words 'possibly' and 'probably'.

Russia was never the initiator of the freezing of bilateral relations [with the UK]. Such quasi-investigations can undoubtedly only poison the atmosphere of our bilaterial relations even further.

'Not funny'

BBC

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the report on the murder of Alexander Litvinenko was the product of "the elegant sense of humour of the British".

Downing Street has responded by saying: "The murder of someone in Britain, the pain and torment this has caused for his family and an independent inquiry with such conclusions is far from that."

The Litvinenko Inquiry in numbers

BBC

The Press Association has put together some of the key statistics contained in the inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko: 

  • 50 micrograms - the minimum amount of polonium-210 believed to have been put into the teapot from which Mr Litvinenko drank at the Millennium Hotel in London on 1 November, 2006.
  • 100 grams - the approximate amount of polonium-210 made in nuclear reactors each year around the world. 
  • 4.4 gigabecquerels - the radioactivity of Mr Litvinenko's likely total intake of polonium-210. Roughly 10,000 becquerels, when ingested, is enough to kill a person. 
  • £2,000 per month - Mr Litvinenko's payments for supplying information to British intelligence, which began in 2004. 
  • £2.2m - the total cost of the inquiry into Mr Litvinenko's death. 
  • 22 days - the length of time between Mr Litvinenko's poisoning and his death, on 23 November, 2006. 
  • 60 locations - the number of places examined and assessed by more than 200 officers as part of the police investigation into his death.
  • 15 countries - the number of nations to which requests for legal assistance were made as part of the investigation. 
  • 135,000 words - the approximate length of the inquiry report, running to almost 330 pages. 
  • 17 months - total length of the inquiry from the formal setting up date to the submission of the report. A total of 62 witnesses gave oral evidence. 

PM: 'We have clear eyes and a cold heart in our dealings with Russia'

Mr Cameron has not ruled out further punitive action, saying he will look carefully at the report, but he says the UK has to continue to conduct relations with Russia on some level to try to resolve the conflict in Syria.

We have a pretty difficult relationship with the Russians in any event. We totally disapprove of what they're doing in Syria, bombing the moderate opposition. That is making the situation worse, not better. We put sanctions in place, led the arguments in Europe for sanctions because of their illegal action in the Ukraine.

But do we at some level have to go on having some sort of relationship with them because we need a solution to the Syria crisis? Yes, we do, but we do it with clear eyes and a very cold heart.

PM: 'Report confirms what we always believed, that it was state-sponsored action'

BBC

Mr Cameron says: "What we've added today is further asset freezes, writing to the prosecuting authorities to see what more can be done."

He called the murder "absolutely appalling", adding: "This report confirms what we always believed, and what we believed at the time of this dreadful murder, that it was state-sponsored action."

BreakingPrime Minister: 'Be in no doubt, we're toughening our action against Russia'

Prime Minister David Cameron tells the BBC: "Be in no doubt, this shocking event was reacted to years ago when it happened and we're toughening our action again today."

Litvinenko murder: Why would Putin want him dead?

BBC

The BBC's Richard Galpin explains the accusation that Vladimir Putin ordered Alexander Litvinenko's killing.  

Watch his analysis here.

BreakingPutin spokesman: Response will be through diplomatic channels

BBC Monitoring

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow's response to the UK report on the Litvinenko killing will happen through "diplomatic channels". 

"All the necessary answers will of course be given through diplomatic channels," Dmitry Preskov was quoted saying by the Interfax news agency.

The teapot at the heart of a murder

BBC

A white teapot was at the centre of the murder inquiry that shocked the world and plunged Britain's relations with Russia into crisis. 

Dissident spy Alexander Litvinenko died three weeks after drinking tea at the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair, central London, in November 2006. 

After his death, every teapot at the hotel was tested and only one bore evidence of contamination, the probe heard. 

Extremely high readings were detected on the porcelain pot, which was given the exhibit number NJH/1. 

The highest levels were found on the inside of the spout. One expert estimated that at least 50 micrograms of polonium 210 was placed into the teapot.

The inquiry report said forensic evidence showed the Pine Bar was heavily contaminated, with the highest readings taken from the table where Mr Litvinenko was sitting and from the inside of one of the teapots. 

"No comparable levels of contamination were found in any of the other places that Mr Litvinenko visited that day," it said. 

In his conclusions, inquiry chairman Sir Robert Owen wrote: "I am sure that Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun placed the polonium 210 in the teapot at the Pine Bar on November 1 2006."

Former British Ambassador to Moscow: 'Need for justice above diplomatic pussyfooting around'

BBC

Sir Andrew Wood, who was UK ambassador to Moscow between 1995 to 2000, the year that Alexander Litvinenko left Russia for the UK, said it was "about time" blame was placed at the door of the Kremlin.

He said he was relieved that the conclusions were "so clear, so well-argued, and so demonstrable".

I think it brings out a very clear and very important issue as to the nature of Russia today, as to the need for justice above diplomatic pussyfooting around, and as to the value of putting on record so that we all know what we're dealing with.

He said the idea that there was processed polonium available on the streets was "extraordinarily unlikely".

Much more likely was the probability that someone at a senior level must have give the poison to them.

I think it's highly unlikely that low-level operatives would seek to poison someone here without some sort of clearance, even if it's only a nod, from higher up.

The government needs to make some concrete gestures about this murderous incident, and to take note of what this means about Russia today.

#PutinProbablyApproved

Analysis by Oleg Boldyrev, BBC Moscow correspondent

For years Moscow rejected allegations of high-level involvement into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.

The fact Russian President Putin himself is now associated with this assassination has not changed anything. Taking their lead from Robert Owen’s use of the words “high probability”, the second tier of the Russian establishment, mainly Kremlin-loyalist MPs, are dismissing the entire report as a politically-based fabrication.

Russians on social media are making fun of its conclusions by using the hashtag ‘PutinProbablyApproved’ in Russian to include all manner of crimes. (#ПутинВозможноОдобрил).

So too are Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun. Their story has become so well-rehearsed that no amount of detail published in London is likely to change that. 

For almost 10 years both had to stay in Russia as there are international warrants for their arrest. It is unlikely they still have any assets to be frozen by the British authorities.

One member of parliament, Nikolai Kovalev, himself an ex-FSB boss, pointed out relations between Moscow and London would not be harmed by the report as there was no room for making them any worse.

Litvinenko 'won't be last critic to end up dead'

CNN is running an opinion piece - Don't let Vladimir Putin get away with murder on British soil - by William Browder, the CEO and co-founder of investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, which was once the largest foreign investor in Russia. 

His previous accusations of Russian corruption have seen him barred from the country and tried in absentia for tax evasion. 

He believes Alexander Litvinenko "wasn't the first critic of Vladimir Putin to end up dead, and he won't be the last".

 

Suspect sent 'nuclear death' T-shirt

PA
PA

Murder suspect Andrei Lugovoi is said to have given this t-shirt to an associate in Moscow and asked for it be delivered as a "gift" to billionaire Boris Berezovsky, a friend of Mr Litvinenko's, in 2010. 

The front says: "Polonium-210 CSKA London, Hamburg. To Be Continued", while the back says: "CSKA Moscow Nuclear Death Is Knocking Your Door". 

Inquiry chairman Sir Robert said: "The T-shirt could be seen as an admission by Mr Lugovoi that he had poisoned Mr Litvinenko, made at a time when he was confident that he would never be extradited from Russia, and wished to taunt Mr Berezovsky with that fact. 

"Alternatively, it could, perhaps, be seen as an extraordinarily tasteless joke." 

Mr Berezovsky died at his Berkshire home in 2013.

Russia is monstrous gangster state, warns Liam Fox

BBC

Former Conservative Defence Secretary Liam Fox says the West has "a policy of wishful thinking" towards Russian relations. 

People like myself who criticised Russia's behaviour were regarded as hawkish and provocative. But I think it's very clear that this is a monstrous gangster state that we face in Russia and we can't possibly treat them as an equal partner in global affairs."

Picture: Russian ambassador faces the media

PA
Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko speaks to the media after being summoned to the Foreign Office following the findings of the Litvinenko inquiry

'Political poisonings' before Litvinenko murder

The Owen inquiry report draws attention to several political poisonings in the years before Alexander Litvinenko’s murder in 2006.

In particular, he mentions “an apparent attempt to poison Viktor Yuschenko, the anti-Moscow candidate in presidential elections taking place in Ukraine” in September 2004.

The BBC Radio programme Witness has just broadcast an interview with the former Ukrainian president about how he was poisoned. You can find it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03fcjh5

Inquiry will harm relations, Russian ambassador warns

In his statement to reporters, Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko also says Russia will not accept any decisions reached in secret and based on evidence not tested in open court.

The length of time taken to come to these conclusions led them to believe it was "a whitewash of British security services incompetence", he adds.

He went on to say that these events "can't help but harm our bilateral relations".

'The man who solved his own murder'

The Guardian has a feature on the Litvinenko case titled "The man who solved his own murder." It features details of the witness statements Alexander Litvinenko gave to police. Read here

Unacceptable conclusion, Russian ambassador says

BBC Monitoring

The Russian ambassador in the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, rejects the outcome of the Litvinenko inquiry.

"It is absolutely unacceptable for us that the report contains the conclusion that the Russian state is somehow involved in Litvinenko's death on British soil," he says after being summoned by the Foreign Office in London.

Andy Burnham: 'Most disturbing report ever'

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham has described the murder of Alexander Litvinenko as an "act of state-sanctioned terrorism": 

"I don't believe a more disturbing report has ever been presented to this Parliament. This was an act of state-sanctioned terrorism, an attack on London, sanctioned at the very highest levels of the Russian government and putting thousands of Londoners at risk. Given that, I don't believe the government's response today went anywhere near far enough."

David Davis: 'You can't just tell them off'

Senior Conservative MP David Davis, who was shadow home secretary when Mr Litvinenko was murdered, says the government needs to take firm action against Russia.

"On our streets, an act of murder - not just an act of murder; they didn't sort of covertly knife him to death so it looked like a mugging, they made it very plain that they were executing him, that's what the polonium was about. So, we have to respond very firmly. You can't just tell them off."

Who's who in the Litvinenko case?

A host of names linked to the Litvinenko case have been mentioned throughout the morning. Here is some background on some of those individuals.

AP

Alexander Litvinenko: A Russian soldier, who became a spy at the Soviet intelligence agency, the KGB (later the Federal Security Services, or FSB). 

After falling out with Vladimir Putin, then his boss at the FSB, he fled to the UK where he eventually became a British citizen and began working for MI6. 

He was murdered in London in 2006. Read a full profile here.

AFP

Nikolai Patrushev: Currently the secretary of the Security Council of Russia. He was director of the FSB, during Vladimir Putin's first two terms as president (1999-2008) and was very close to him.

Inquiry chairman Sir Robert Owen said: "Taking full account of all the evidence and analysis available to me, I find that the FSB operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev and also by President Putin."  

Mr Patrushev said last year in an interview with a Russian newspaper that the United States "really would like it if Russia did not exist at all as a state".

Getty
Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun have denied any involvement and remain in Russia

Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun: For many years, these two Russians have been the chief suspects in Mr Litvinenko's murder. 

Mr Lugovoi had been in the FSB and the federal protection service, and continued to have strong links to the FSB.

Mr Kovtun is a former Soviet army officer who has said he was at one point a member of the Russian army intelligence corps. He announced in March that he wanted to testify to the inquiry, but later said he would communicate only via email.

Both have denied any involvement in the murder, and there has been no sign that they will be extradited from Russia to face charges in the UK.

Read a full profile here.  

EPA

Vladimir Putin: According to the Kremlin website, Mr Putin wanted to work in Soviet intelligence "even before he finished school".  

He served as a spy in communist East Germany - with some of his ex-KGB comrades later receiving top state posts when he became president.

He entered Boris Yeltsin's Kremlin in 1997, and was made chief of the Federal Security Service, and then prime minister, and finally president in 1999.

During his presidential period, many of his critics have been exiled abroad.

The Litvinenko inquiry concluded that he "probably" approved the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, one of his vocal critics, because of personal "antagonism" between them.

Read a full profile here.

Litvinenko prime suspects profiled

Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun have long been named by British police as prime suspects but attempts to extradite them from Russia have failed. They have always denied any involvement. Read our profile of the men

Kovtun attacks 'fabricated evidence' of inquiry

BBC Monitoring

Dmitry Kovtun, one of the men suspected of killing Alexander Litvinenko, again denies involvement.

"I am not involved in Litvinenko's death. As for the outcome of the public inquiry that has been published in London, Robert Owen could not have reached any other conclusions based on the falsified and fabricated evidence," he tells Interfax.

President Putin 'probably' approved Litvinenko murder

Here's how our news story has captured today's events:

The murder of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 in the UK was 'probably' approved by President Vladimir Putin, an inquiry has found.

Mr Putin is likely to have signed off the poisoning of Mr Litvinenko with polonium-210 in part due to personal "antagonism" between the pair, it said.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the murder was a "blatant and unacceptable" breach of international law.

But the Russian Foreign Ministry said the public inquiry was "politicised".

It said: "We regret that the purely criminal case was politicised and overshadowed the general atmosphere of bilateral relations."

Mr Litvinenko's widow Marina welcomed the report, calling for sanctions to be imposed on Russia and a travel ban on Mr Putin.

Her husband died aged 43 in London in 2006, days after drinking tea poisoned with the radioactive substance.

The former Russian spy - who is believed to have later worked for MI6 - had been a fierce critic of the Kremlin.

Read the full story here

What part did secret evidence play in inquiry findings?

Analysis by Gordon Corera, BBC security correspondent

The conclusions of this inquiry are stronger than many expected in pointing the finger at Vladimir Putin personally - although the evidence behind that seems to have come from secret intelligence heard in closed session.

Saying that Alexander Litvinenko was killed because he was an enemy of the Russian state will raise pressure on the British government to take real action - the steps taken nearly a decade ago were only limited in scope.

That may be pose difficulties given the importance of Russia's role in the Middle East but, without tough action, people may ask if the Russian government has been allowed to get away with what's been described as an act of nuclear terrorism on the streets of London.

'A farce not objective legal proceedings'

BBC Monitoring

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mariya Zakharova says at a media briefing that Britain's actions create a "dangerous precedent" and it "replaced objective legal proceedings with a farce".

Probe 'aimed to denigrate Russia'

BBC Monitoring

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mariya Zakharova says the Litvinenko probe is an outcome of one-and-a-half years of games behind the scenes, adding that it was all predictable and the logical conclusion of a pseudo-legal and quasi-legal process.

"We can say that this [probe] is criminal, it's aimed to denigrate Russia. The inquiry was secretive and politicised."

Meanwhile, Putin chairs science and education meeting

Russia-24

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to respond to the allegation to come out of the inquiry that he "probably" approved the murder of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

Mr Putin is likely to have signed off the poisoning of Mr Litvinenko, in part due to personal "antagonism" between the pair, it said.

He has been chairing a meeting on science and education this morning, with live pictures showing him on the Russia-24 news channel.

Officials in Moscow dismissing the inquiry - once again

Analysis by Oleg Boldyrev, BBC Moscow correspondent

Officials in Moscow are dismissing the inquiry – once again. For years Moscow was rejecting allegations of high-level involvement in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko and the main suspect, Andrei Lugovoi, has been given a parliament seat and a prominent stage to protest his innocence.

He did so again today, his take on the story has become well-rehearsed and no amount of details published in London are likely to change that. For almost 10 years Lugovoi has had to stay put in Russia as there’s an international warrant for his arrest.

It is unlikely he has any assets to be frozen by the British authorities. The words about "high probability" used by Sir Robert Owen invited scorn from him and many other commentators from the officialdom.

In the ironic comment of another member of parliament, Nikolai Kovalev, himself an ex-FSB boss, relations between Moscow and London will not be spoiled as there’s no room for making then any worse. Russian top brass have not commented on the issue, perhaps waiting for the political response to Sir Robert’s report in the UK.

If it emerges that no significant measures against Russian officials or economy have been announced, it may mean that those dismissive comments in Russia will not stay in circulation for too long and Moscow will, once again, consider the case closed.

Chairman Sir Robert Owen: No doubt Russians killed Litvinenko

Here is chairman Sir Robert Owen giving his key findings from the inquiry earlier.

The diplomatic challenge ahead

BBC

Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Crispin Blunt calls the report "a triumph for Marina Litvinenko and the British legal system".

Mr Blunt says that the current state of relations with Russia is already "heavily conditioned" by the understanding of this case, and says the challenge remains to "advance our remaining common interests" with Russia against violent Islamic extremism and ending the civil war in Syria, "with this as the backdrop".

Theresa May agrees that "our relationship with Russia is already heavily conditioned" by the case and says a "guarded engagement with Russia on certain issues" will be important.

UK 'still needs to engage with Russia'

Despite the apparent involvement of the Russian state at the highest level in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the UK still needs "to engage" with Russia, albeit "guardedly", Home Secretary Theresa May says.

Issues such as Syria and the conflict there mean the UK still has to talk to Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, she adds.

Litvinenko inquiry: Widow calls for travel ban on President Putin

Police still pursuing 'cold and calculated murder on the streets of London'

The Metropolitan Police have stressed that Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun remain wanted for Alexander Litvinenko's murder. "Our objective will always be to put them before a criminal court," the force said in a statement.

"This was a cold and calculated murder that caused immense suffering to Alexander and his family and one that had no regard for the safety of the public in London.

"The investigation has been painstakingly conducted to identify and gather evidence to find those responsible and to bring them to justice.

"It is important to remember that behind the significant global interest in this case, this remains an investigation into the murder of a man on the streets of London."

 

Criticism from all sides - but diplomacy seems to have trumped justice

Norman Smith

BBC News assistant political editor

What I found striking listening to the debate was the torrent of criticism Theresa May faced from all sides of the house. 

I hardly heard a single MP speak in support of the very limited response of the government.

President Putin was described as a KGB thug and gangster, someone who presides over a rogue state, who uses assassination as government policy.

There have been warnings from some MPs that the UK government response will be seen as a sign of weakness - and there were calls for measures including travel bans and sanctions.

Mrs May said that she is taking action, but I think the view is that the action being taken so far is very, very limited. 

A very circumscribed and cautious response. The reason for that, bluntly, is Syria. The so-called Islamic State is seen as a threat to the UK, and Russia is an ally in fighting them.

Diplomatic necessity seems to have trumped the need for justice.

Litvinenko's deathbed statement mentioned President Putin

Marina Litvinenko has referenced the words of her husband on his hospital deathbed in 2006.

In a statement released at the time, he had said: "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." 

Putin makes no mention of inquiry report

BBC Monitoring

President Vladimir Putin made no mention of the UK report on the Litvinenko killing in his opening remarks to a session of the presidential council on science and education.

The meeting is still being broadcast live by Russian state news channel Russia-24. 

It's been pretty difficult, says Litvinenko's son

Anatoly Litvinenko, who was 12 at the time of his father's murder, spoke to the press earlier

May: 'PM will raise issue with Putin at next opportunity'

Theresa May says the PM will be raising the findings from the inquiry with President Putin "at the next available opportunity". 

She says she has written to Marina Litvinenko promising to consider her appeals for action to be taken.

She says there are a number actions that can be taken against certain individuals in terms of a travel ban.

But, she points out that in the case of suspects Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, the government "wants them in the UK" so that they can face trial.

Theresa May 'deeply disturbed' by Litvinenko inquiry findings

Murder suspects should front up, senior Russian MP says

BBC Monitoring

Litvinenko murder suspects named by the UK public inquiry should go to court to defend their reputation, says Pavel Krasheninnikov, the head of the legal committee at the Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament).

"If any names are named, these citizens should defend themselves, defend their honour and dignity, their good name," the MP tells Interfax news agency.

Burnham questions whether 2018 World Cup in Russia should go ahead

The shadow home secretary says there are "difficult and right questions" to be asked about the UK's relations with Russia - including cultural, economic and diplomatic.

He questions whether the 2018 Fifa World Cup, which is to be held in Russia, should proceed.

"Isn't there a growing case for this country to engage with others for a debate about whether the 2018 World Cup should go ahead in Russia?" he says.

There are some cheers behind him as he says that.

Read about the key findings and the murder weapon

Click here to catch up on the key findings of the inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko

And click here if you want to read all about polonium-210 - the radioactive substance used to murder him