Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 205

Aleksandr Litvinenko, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer, has asked for political asylum in Great Britain. Litvinenko reportedly made the request yesterday after arriving in London with his wife and infant child. Litvinenko gained notoriety back in 1998, when he and several other FSB officers accused Yevgeny Khokholkov, former chief of the FSB’s anti-organized crime department, and his deputy Aleksandr Kamyshnikov, of ordering them to murder Boris Berezovsky in late 1997. Litvinenko, whose ties to Berezovsky go back to 1994, when he helped investigate an attempt to assassinate the tycoon, was subsequently tossed out of the FSB. Berezovsky, after becoming Commonwealth of Independent States executive secretary, appointed Litvinenko as an adviser on CIS security questions (see the Monitor, November 18, 1998, and March 29, 1999).

Litvinenko said yesterday that he had requested political asylum in Great Britain on the basis of “ceaseless persecution by the Russian special services.” He claimed that he, his wife and child had been threatened, and that he had asked the Prosecutor General’s Office several times to protect his family, but had received no answer. His lawyer was quoted as saying that Litvinenko “fears for his life also because he knows about a lot of things, including the explosions of the apartment buildings in Moscow last year” (NTV, November 1). Some reports in the Russian media have suggested that Russia’s special services were behind those terrorist attacks, which killed several hundred people and served as the pretext for the war in Chechnya.

The charges made by Litvinenko and his fellow officers in 1998 concerning the alleged plot to assassinate Berezovsky came several days after the tycoon published an open letter to then FSB Director Vladimir Putin. In that letter, Berezovsky charged that FSB officials had been involved in murders, kidnappings and extortion, and that hardline elements in the FSB were conspiring with hardline communists to revive the Soviet system. Putin reacted angrily to Berezovsky’s open letter, saying that the FSB would not get involved in “political games.” Indeed, it should be noted that while Berezovsky, Litvinenko and the other pro-Berezovsky FSB officers charged that top-level FSB officials had been involved in crimes, other FSB officers charged that Litvinenko and his associates were guilty of the same thing (see the Monitor, November 18, 1998, and March 29, 1999).