By Luke Harding

1 November 2006. Alexander Litvinenko is overtly poisoned in important London. Twenty days later he dies, killed from the interior. The poison? Polonium; an extraordinary, deadly and hugely radioactive substance. His crime? He had made a few robust enemies in Russia.

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Scotland Yard was able to reconstruct minute by minute the events leading up to the murder. Its investigation – made public more than eight years later – was one of the most extensive in criminal history. Yet despite this exposure there were soon to be other victims – opponents felled in murky circumstances abroad or, like the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, killed outside the very gates of the Kremlin. Moscow would send tanks across borders, start a war in Europe, and annex a large chunk of neighbouring territory.

The KGB recruited him in 1975 after he finished Leningrad University. Putin’s world view reflected the a priori thinking of the KGB. The agency was suspicious, paranoid and prone to conspiratorial reasoning. Putin was convinced that the US and the western world were engaged in an unsleeping plot against the Soviet Union. Virtually all the graduates from the KGB institute got jobs afterwards in the first directorate and were sent to foreign ‘residencies’, as the KGB termed its covert offices abroad.

He said that he and his subordinates had received illegal instructions to kill and kidnap people and to extort money. Instead of protecting the state, senior FSB officials were busy lining their pockets. Asked if he was scared, Litvinenko said he perfectly understood there would be retribution. ‘I know the habits of this organisation and therefore suspect that we shall all be strangled like blind puppies,’ he replied, adding that ‘as a citizen’ he considered it his duty to act. He said the plot against Berezovsky demonstrated that there was ‘anti-semitism’ in Russia at the very top.

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