Other View: On suspicions about Russian President Putin in the death of a critic
Someone went to a lot of trouble to kill Russian secret agent turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who died a week ago. But who? Litvinenko offered a provocative answer as he lay near death in a London hospital bed: He reportedly fingered ...
Someone went to a lot of trouble to kill Russian secret agent turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who died a week ago. But who?
Litvinenko offered a provocative answer as he lay near death in a London hospital bed: He reportedly fingered another former spy, Russian President Vladimir Putin. But is Putin too obvious a suspect? Litvinenko's urine indicated he had ingested polonium-210, a radioactive and tremendously poisonous material. So rare is polonium-210 that its presence suggests it came from a nation with a sophisticated nuclear program. A nation such as ... Russia. The presence of such a potent clue had senior Russian officials claiming that in fact someone eager to frame Putin must have killed -- martyred? -- Litvinenko.
From there it was a short leap to speculation in the British press that Litvinenko could have poisoned himself, then used his final days to press his case that Putin had tried to silence him.
That's certainly a tempting story line, especially for foes of the Russian president. For years they've accused him of pretending to be a liberal democrat while ruling like an iron-fisted monarch. Critics of the Kremlin do tend to die in startling ways; Litvinenko said he thought he had somehow ingested the polonium-210 while investigating the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist also harshly critical of Putin.
Solving a mysterious death case is a high priority. But so is determining whether a state government, or a peddler on the black market, has turned polonium-210 into a commercially available weapon. We'd all sleep better knowing how that radioactive agent made its way into Litvinenko -- and whether more of it is up for grabs.