21 October 2018
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Opinion: six reasons you can't take the Litvinenko report seriously (by William Dunkerley, the Guardian)

Disclaimer: The Embassy is not responsible for the opinions expressed in this publication.

An inquiry into the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in the heart of London in 2006 has concluded that he was “probably” murdered on the personal orders of Vladimir Putin. This is a troubling accusation.

The report (pdf) said that Litvinenko, who died from radioactive poisoning, was killed by two Russian agents, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, who were most likely acting on behalf of the Russian FSB secret service.
Alexander Litvinenko: the man who solved his own murder.
The head of the inquiry, Sir Robert Owen, also came to the conclusion that there was sufficient evidence heard in open court to build a “strong circumstantial case” against the Russian state.

His conclusions mirror those of the late Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who had been living in London waging a campaign against Putin before his own death in 2013. Litvinenko was his chief bomb thrower.

I’ve been analysing this case since Litvinenko’s death, and I’ve followed the inquiry closely. I don’t know whether or not his murder was ordered by the Russian president or anyone in the Kremlin. What I do know is that Owen’s findings are not supported by reliable evidence.

The report relies on hearsay and is marred by inconsistent logic. It offers no factual insights into what really happened to Litvinenko, yet has been taken as gospel truth by governments and pundits across the west.

Here are some of the problems
1. PR campaign

The inquiry failed to take into account the massive misinformation campaign initiated by Berezovsky. It was Berezovsky, an arch-enemy of Putin, who put forward the narrative that the Russian president was behind the poisoning of Litvinenko and fed this to a gullible western media, with the help of the PR firm Bell Pottinger.

A typical headline of the day was something like “Ex-KGB Spy Murdered on Orders of Putin”. No facts were presented, just unsupported allegations. Berezovsky’s well-funded management of the public discourse set the tone for everything that was to come.

If this had been a jury trial, the media coverage would have prejudiced the case. In the absence of a jury Berezovsky’s targets included the public, journalists, police, and government officials. Yet there was no consideration of the impact of this wide-reaching influence in the report.
Marina Litvinenko holds a copy of the inquiry report with her son Anatoly Litvinenko.
Marina Litvinenko holds a copy of the inquiry report with her son Anatoly Litvinenko. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters
2. Inconsistent

The inquiry appears to use different evidentiary standards for different witnesses. On the one hand Owen claims that he considers some of the evidence submitted by the two alleged assassins, Lugovoi and Kovtun, to be deficient. As a result, he says, he won’t regard as credible any parts of their accounts.

But he applies a different standard to others. For example, a retired physics professor named Norman Dombey testified that a polonium sample contains a characteristic fingerprint that allows it to be traced back to its source. However Owen concludes that this fingerprint theory “is flawed and must be rejected”. He does not react to problems with some of Dombey’s testimony by dismissing all of it. In fact, he says that he received valuable evidence from Dombey.
3. Unreliable

There is also the question of Litvinenko’s dramatic deathbed statement implicating Putin that drew so much international attention. Early media reports suggest the statement was composed by Litvinenko himself and dictated to his associate, Alexander Goldfarb. The inquiry report describes Goldfarb as the co-author of the book Death of a Dissident with Marina Litvinenko. It does not mention that he was a close ally of Berezovsky’s.
Boris Berezovsky at his home in Surrey, before his death.
Boris Berezovsky at his home in Surrey, before his death. Photograph: John Downing/Getty Images

Later media reports quote Goldfarb as saying that he wrote the statement himself and checked it with Litvinenko. Another account suggests the statement was drafted by the family lawyer, George Menzies, and discussed with the PR firm Bell Pottinger, acting for Berezovsky.

Which is correct? And even more importantly, the statement does not explain how Litvinenko could possibly have known of the Russian president’s culpability, nor does it offer evidence to back up the allegation.
4. Bias

The report fails to acknowledge that Goldfarb is not an objective observer in this case. For instance, he was also involved in promoting the anti-Putin protests of the punk rock group Pussy Riot. This is important because it suggests that the accusations against Putin form part of a long-running campaign stretching over his entire tenure in the Kremlin.

The report recounts many allegations against him as if they were discrete events rather than seeing them as part of a continuous process. The point here is that the inquiry should have considered Goldfarb’s testimony within a context of a systematic anti-Putin agenda.
5. Lacking evidence

The report admits that there are no hard facts to support the claims against Putin, noting that “evidence of Russian state involvement in most of these deaths is circumstantial”. But “circumstantial” is used here as a euphemism for “factually unsupported”.

The report goes on to suggest that the other allegations against Putin over the years, for example that he was implicated in the murder of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, “establish a pattern of events, which is of contextual importance to the circumstances of Mr Litvinenko’s death”. In other words, Owen admits to being influenced by unproven cases in his consideration of culpability in Litvinenko’s death.
Vladimir Putin and David Cameron during the G20 summit in November 2015.
Vladimir Putin and David Cameron during the G20 summit in November 2015. Photograph: Yuri Kochetkov/EPA
6. Dubious reasoning

The role of Mario Scaramella, an Italian sometimes described as an academic, presented a dilemma for the inquiry. At first Litvinenko publically accused Scaramella of poisoning him to stop him disclosing information about Russia’s culpability in Politkovskaya’s death. But the story seems to have changed after Berezovsky visited Litvinenko in hospital, after which his people began saying that Litvinenko had blamed Putin.

There is no evidence that Scaramella was responsible, but the inquiry accepted a strange reasoning for Litvinenko implicating him in the first place. Apparently the former spy was embarrassed to admit that he hadn’t seen Lugovoi and Kovtun as threats, so initially concocted the allegations against Scaramello to salvage his professional pride.

While this analysis points to serious flaws in the report, it does not present evidence to exonerate Putin. As I said, I don’t know whether or not he is to blame. But what happened to the presumption of innocence and the need to build a case before declaring someone guilty?

It is clear that those who are behind these claims against the Russian president have an agenda, and are using a wealth of means in their attempts to convince others.
Analysis Key findings: who killed Alexander Litvinenko, how and why
Inquiry report reveals essential evidence behind conclusion of probable Russian state involvement in former spy’s death
Read more

The public inquiry’s acceptance of so many of their questionable allegations casts a pall over Owen’s efforts and renders his report practically useless.

William Dunkerley is a media analyst and author based in the US, who has written extensibly about Russia. His recent books include Litvinenko Murder Case Solved and The Phony Litvinenko Murder.




27.09.2018 - Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the UN Security Council meeting, September 26, 2018

Mr President, Colleagues, In the modern world, an efficient fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is becoming increasingly important for global and regional stability and the reliable security of all states without exception. Constructive cooperation in this area is an important component of the efforts to shape a positive international agenda. I think everybody agrees that the UN Security Council resolutions that outline specific measures against violations of non-proliferation must be strictly observed. Resolution 1540 remains the basis for this and contains obligations for the member states to take specific measures to prevent non-government agents from accessing weapons of mass destruction and their components. The UNSC decisions taken in pursuance of this resolution are particularly important as they include sanctions for handing over any types of weapons to terrorists. There have been incidents of such handovers and they must be thoroughly investigated.

07.09.2018 - Remarks by Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, following the UNSC meeting on the incident in Salisbury

Q: Do you expect British sanctions on Russia soon? A: We are not expecting or afraid of anything. Taking to the account how things have been developing during the recent years we do not exclude anything. This discussion and yesterday’s speech by the British Prime-Minister in the British Parliament are not coincidental. I think that’s looks like a prelude to a new political season. Q: So, Ambassador it’s really coming from the highest level in the UK. A: It always comes from the highest level. Last time when the incident took place it also came from the highest level. Q: But it seems that you are not taking it seriously. A: We are taking it very seriously. We were saying it all the time. Why we’ve been asking for cooperation with the UK from day one. Only few minutes ago Ambassador Pierce was referring to an ultimatum that Boris Johnson made in his letter to the Russian Ambassador in London when the incident took place presented as a request by the British site to cooperate while in fact it was a demand to to accept the gilt. At the same time our requests which we sent to British authorities constantly through OPCW and bilaterally were ignored.

06.09.2018 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at Bolshaya Igra (Great Game) talk show on Channel One, Moscow, September 4, 2018

Question: Today we have a special guest in our studio, one of the main participants in the “great game”, someone the future of the world really depends on in many ways: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. We are happy to welcome you in the Great Game studio. Sergey Lavrov: Thanks for inviting me.

22.08.2018 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's comment on UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt's anti-Russian claims

At a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Serbia Ivica Dacic Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented on UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt's urges to European partners to slap their own sanctions on Russia in connection with the Salisbury incident.

16.08.2018 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's interview for "Salisbury Journal"

The Russian Ambassador said he stands together with the people of Salisbury in a meeting with the Journal last week, as the United States announced new sanctions against the country. Speaking at his official residence in Kensington Palace Gardens on Thursday, Alexander Yakovenko said: “We are together with the people of Salisbury.”

24.06.2018 - Greeting by Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko for the Znaniye school Family Day (Ealing, 24 June 2018)

Dear friends and guests, I am delighted to welcome you at a Family Day celebrating Russia and the World Cup. Today, Russia is the place to be for the whole world. It is a great pleasure to hear fans from all continents appreciating Russia’s hospitality, friendliness and openness to everyone. Right now, people from virtually every country see the 11 host cities, from the Baltic Sea to the Urals on the border of Europe and Asia, and realize how diverse and beautiful our country is. We’d like to bring a bit of Russia and the excitement of the World Cup to Ealing, for those who couldn’t make it to the tournament. By the way, so far both our teams are doing very well, and let us hope they keep up this good work. We cheer for both Russia and England but I’m afraid this can change if both teams meet at the semi-finals.

20.06.2018 - Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at the Primakov Readings international forum, Moscow, May 30, 2018

Mr Dynkin, Colleagues and friends, Ladies and gentlemen, I am grateful for a new opportunity to speak at the international forum named after Academician Evgeny Primakov, an outstanding Russian statesman, academic and public figure. It is indeed a great honour for me. I consider Mr Primakov, with whom I worked at the Foreign Ministry in the latter half of the 1990s, my senior comrade and teacher, as probably do the majority of those who crossed paths with him at one point. Holding this representative conference under the aegis of one of Russia’s leading academic institutes – National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) that also bears Primakov’s name – has become a good tradition. The Primakov Readings have earned a reputation as a venue for serious dialogue of authoritative specialists on the most pressing issues of international politics and the global economy. Today, there is no lack of buzzwords used by politicians, experts and scientists to capture the current moment in international relations. They talk about the crisis of the “liberal world order” and the advent of the post-Western era, “hot peace” and the “new cold war”. The abundance of terms itself shows that there is probably no common understanding of what is happening. It also points to the fairly dynamic and contradictory state of the system of international relations that is hard to characterise, at least at the present stage, with one resounding phrase. The authors of the overarching theme of the current Primakov Readings probably handled the challenge better than others. In its title “Risks of an unstable world order’ they provocatively, and unacademically, combine the words “unstable” and “order”.

21.04.2018 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's talking points at the Press Conference, 20 April 2018

Since we met last time a lot of events took place: - Military strikes of the United States, UK and France against Syria in violation of the international law - Mission by OPCW inspectors to Douma - Speech of Prime Minister May in Parliament in support of the British aggression against Syria - Special meeting of the OPCW Executive Council (18 April 2018) - New developments in the classified case of Salisbury poisoning of Skripal family - No meaningful developments on the Glushkov case - and Cyber security threats I plan to comment all these issues. And I will be happy to answer all our questions, if you have any.

17.03.2018 - Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko's interview for "Mail on Sunday" (full text)

Q: Bearing in mind that the US, France and Germany have said they agree with Britain that all the evidence suggests the attacks in Salisbury were the responsibility of the Russian state, what credibility can be placed on the denials issued by the Russian Government? A:We don't know if UK presented any evidence to US, France and Germany - highly likely none - but if they did, why not present it through the channels outlined in the Chemical Weapons Convention? Universal legal principle is presumption of innocence, and the burden of proof lies with the British Government. Its record includes the Iraq WMD dossier - you will remember that at some point doubting US and UK claims was considered a wild conspiracy theory. It is not any more.

26.01.2018 - Main foreign policy outcomes of 2017

In 2017, Russian diplomacy addressed multidimensional tasks to ensure national security and create a favourable external environment for our country's progressive development. Russia maintained an independent foreign policy, promoted a unifying agenda, and proposed constructive solutions to international problems and conflicts. It developed mutually beneficial relations with all interested states, and played an active role in the work of the UN, multilateral organisations and forums, including the G20, BRICS, the SCO, the OSCE, and the CSTO. Among other things, Russian policy has sought to prevent the destabilisation of international relations, and this responsible policy has met with broad understanding in the international community.

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