Saturday, November 25, 2006

Memories of the Cold War

This, from the Guardian, is one of the more bizarre stories of the past week:

The mysterious death of a former Russian spy living in exile in London turned into an unprecedented public health scare yesterday when it emerged that he had been deliberately poisoned by a major dose of radioactive material.

Further traces of the substance were found at a sushi restaurant and at a central London hotel where Alexander Litvinenko met a number of people before falling ill, and at his home in the city.

He was killed by polonium 210, a rare radioactive isotope which is so toxic that there may never be a postmortem examination of Mr Litvinenko's body, for fear of causing further deaths.

Police and security sources said they had never encountered such an extraordinary death. "Nothing like this has ever happened before," said one Whitehall source. "It is unprecedented, we are in uncharted territory." One priority last night was to establish who has access to polonium 210 anywhere in the world.

Two days before his death, Litvinenko dictated an extraordinary statement from his hospital bed placing responsibility for his murder on President Vladimir Putin. After thanking hospital employees who cared for him and British authorities who were investigating the case, Litvinenko continued:

I thank my wife Marina, who has stood by me. My love for her and our son knows no bounds.

But as I lie here I can distinctly hear the beating of wings of the angel of death.

I may be able to give him the slip but I have to say my legs do not run as fast as I would like.

I think, therefore, that this may be the time to say one or two things to the person responsible for my present condition.

You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.

You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value.

You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women.

You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.

May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.

Putin has denied responsibility for Litvinenko's poisoning, but the British government has requested Russia's help in its investigation.

Litvinenko, living in exile in London, was a long-time critic of Putin. At the time of his poisoning, he was investigating the murder of a Russsian journalist who had exposed Russian war crimes in Chechnya.