Blaming Putin directly will put severe strain on relations between the UK and Russiaby David Patrikarakos / January 21, 2016 / Leave a comment
Sir Robert Owen, the chairman of the enquiry into the assassination of former Russian spy and UK citizen Alexander Litvinenko, has today achieved the singular feat of delivering a verdict that manages to resist certainty, but remain utterly explosive.
And it’s easy to see why. On page 246 of his report, Owen writes that “the FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by [Russian President] President [Vladimir] Putin.” The fact that it attributes the assassination partly to personal “antagonism” between Putin and Litvinenko only makes the story even more remarkable.
Though perhaps this is unsurprising. The killing had all the hallmarks of a tacky thriller: a dissident Russian spy–one that, moreover was working for MI6–was killed in London with the use of a radioactive substance (Polonium-210) given to him in a cup of tea. That this murder is now discovered to have emanated from “the very top” is perhaps the only fitting end–dramatically-speaking at least.
It is, however, likely to be only the start of a new drama—this time an overtly political one. If there is another example of a British Government-ordered enquiry that accused the head of another state–let alone a UN Security Council Member—of sanctioning an assassination, then I can’t think of it. The political fallout is likely to be considerable and voluble.
It has already begun. The Russians are, predictably, outraged. “We regret that the purely criminal case was politicised and overshadowed the general atmosphere of bilateral relations” said the Russian Foreign Ministry shortly after the report was published. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has declared that David Cameron will be raising the issue with Putin at “the next available opportunity.”
The verdict is troublesome for the Prime Minister. Russia is supposed to be an ally, and a powerful one at that. It is hard to see how Cameron could possibly broach the subject with Putin. I suspect that he won’t. Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry has also declared that the verdict will “darken” relations with…