It is worth noting that, just because the UK has requested his extradition, does not make Andrei Lugovoi guilty. Despite Blair’s obsession with rebalancing the legal system against the suspect, accused does not yet equal guilty.
Lugovoi made a number of interesting points in his lengthy press conference yesterday. http://www.sptimes.ru/index.php?action_id=2&story_id=21833 For me, his strongest point was that he had his wife and child with him and they had also required treatment for contamination. It is a good point, and he should have the confidence to come over and put it to a jury.
Some of Lugovoi’s other points are interesting. As a former middle ranking Russian Security Service (FSB) officer, Litvinenko was effectively a defector and MI6 will certainly have used him for information. That is their job, after all. That does not technically make him an “agent”. Whether MI6 were still running him as a conduit for former colleagues I doubt. Litvinenko would no longer have access himself, and be too hot for others still inside to approach. MI5 could have been using him for info on Russian exiles, but it wouldn’t be their style to run someone so high profile.
I therefore very much doubt that Litvinenko was a current agent, and I can see no obvious motive for the British state to bump him off. But we should bear in mind that for Lugovoi to react by counter-accusation, still does not make him guilty. He may or may not be.
Insofar as people remember anything Litvinenko said, it is his alliance with Anna Politkovskaya on the issue of the apartment bombings in Russia in 2000 which were almost certainly the work of the FSB. One – in Ryazan – failed to go off because local residents found it and local bomb disposal defused it. That was indubitably planted by the FSB, who admitted it when their agents were caught, and claimed the bomb was a dummy. The bomb disposal team said it was a real bomb, and had the same chemical signature as the other, “Chechen” bombs.
But that wasn’t actually what led Litvinenko to quit. I have a great interest in this, as he was working on a problem on which I was working from the other end. Vast amounts of heroin come from Afghanistan, in particular from the fief of (now) Head of the Afghan Armed Forces General Dostum, in North and East Afghanistan. Dostum is an Uzbek, and the heroin passes over the Friendship Bridge from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan, where it is taken over by President Karimov’s people. It is then shipped up the railway line, in bales of cotton, to St Petersburg and Riga.
Litvinenko uncovered the St Petersburg end, and was stunned by the involvement of the city authorities and local police and security services, at the most senior levels. He reported in detail to Putin. Putin is of course from St Petersburg, and the people Litvinenko named were among Putin’s closest political allies. That is why Litvinenko, having miscalculated badly, had to flee Russia.
I had as little luck as Litvinenko in trying to get official action against this heroin trade. At the St Petersburg end he found those involved had the top protection. In Afghanistan, General Dostum is vital to Karzai’s coalition, and to the West’s pretence of a stable, democratic government. The truth is that the vast majority of heroin produced in Afghanistan is produced by members of the Afghan government, which our soldiers are dying to protect.
This year will be the largest ever opium harvest. Our attempts to blame this on the Taliban are pathetic – the Taliban are capable of raiding, but actually have very little territorial control. They are not major players in narcotics production.
Afghanistan now exports very little opium. It has instead gone into value added – it exports heroin. This is on an industrial scale, in factories not kitchens. The scale of heroin production requires millions of tonnes of liquid precursors, ferried in by hundreds of tankers. This involves active cooperation of Afghan government ministers.
I am not sure who killed Litvinenko – there are too many suspects. But I do know that we prosecute some international criminals, and protect others.