By Luke Harding
1 November 2006. Alexander Litvinenko is openly poisoned in valuable London. Twenty days later he dies, killed from the interior. The poison? Polonium; a unprecedented, deadly and hugely radioactive substance. His crime? He had made a few strong enemies in Russia.
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In 1995, the FSB sent him back to Nalchik, to offer communications support to the forces fighting close by. At first Litvinenko supported Yeltsin’s war. Gradually, however, he grew disillusioned – with the Russian army’s brutal methods and with the president’s political goals, seemingly driven by imperial pique. In January 1996, the Chechen guerrilla leader Salman Raduyev raided the town of Kizlyar in Dagestan, near the Chechen border. His fighters seized the local hospital. They took 3,000 people hostage.
Litvinenko tried to figure out what to do. It was New Year, and Berezovsky had gone to Switzerland for treatment after tumbling off his snowmobile. In March 1998, he finally tracked Berezovsky down to his dacha and told him about the conversation. Berezovsky refused to believe him. Litvinenko returned with several of his URPO colleagues – Andrei Ponkin, Konstantin Latyshonok and German Shcheglov. They persuaded Berezovsky the murder plot was genuine. Shocked, Berezovsky took the evidence to the deputy chief of Yeltsin’s private office.
The oligarch was an elusive subject. Felshtinsky may have failed to extract Berezovsky’s life story from him but he did become a member of his informal team. They disagreed about Putin, however, who Berezovsky insisted was ‘my friend’. ) During a state trip with Berezovsky to Baku, Felshtinsky and Litvinenko had shared a plane and a room. They got on. According to Felshtinsky, Litvinenko was a good storyteller who would talk for hours. As a KGB and FSB officer, Litvinenko had been and was still forbidden from fraternising with foreigners; this was his first sustained encounter with anyone with experience of the west.