The Wilderness of Mirrors
The Times of London says:
In the murky world of Russian espionage, conspiracy theories are the commodities traded by figures like Andrei Lugovoy, the former KGB officer accused of murdering his colleague Alexander Litvinenko in London last year.
So let's join the fun. AJ Strata examines the allegations of Andrei Lugovoy who claims Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky and Alexander Litvinenko were working for Britain's MI6 and that Litvinenko working to recruit him. In Lugovoy's version of events, Litvinenko was killed by MI6 or Berezovsky after showing signs of instability. Like some out of control missile, Litvinenko had to be destroyed by a range safety officer to avoid causing damage. What of the Polonium 210? Lugovoy implies that MI6 used it to hit Litvinenko, presumably so that the finger would point back toward Moscow.
AJ Strata is not buying the Lugovoy story but confesses that the truth, rather than coming into closer focus, seems as elusive as ever. That ambiguity would suit Putin's book. However, let me suggest that any eventual explanation will be consistent with the one known fact: the Polonium 210 came from Russia. It will probably be consistent with the likelihood that it was part of a transaction between men -- Litvinenko and Luguvoy -- who we shall assume for the moment to have been working for somebody, though who exactly we will leave variable.
Then the scenarios consistent with that one known and one probable point will be these: 1) Litvinenko was murdered by the Kremlin using the Polonium; 2) Litvinenko was killed by the substance while acting as go-between for persons unknown; 3) Litvinenko was killed by Berezovsky or MI6 because he was an agent out of control using Russian Polonium 210 to frame the Kremlin. But in all of the scenarios, it is the Polonium which keeps thrusting itself to the fore. Let's examine each scenario in that light.
It makes little sense for the Kremlin to use this difficult-to-handle substance as an assassination method of choice. Nor would the Kremlin accrue any benefit to spotlighting the Polonium-210 as it would shine a light upon a dark corner of Russia's atomic holdings best kept in shadow. It would be similarly senseless for MI6 or even Berezovsky to employ it as an assassination tool either. In the first place, where would they get it? In the second place, MI6 would have a plethora of less exotic methods of rid themselves of Litvinenko in Britain, which was their home turf.
That leaves option number two. Litvinenko was killed accidentally or purposely by the Polonium while acting as a go-between for persons unknown. AJ Strata has speculated that Litvinenko was killed by an accidental leak while handling the "merchandise". But Luguvoy's charge that Litvinenko was an MI6 asset raises the tantalizing possibility that he was placed along the line of smuggling by British intelligence to see whence the Polonium came and where it was bound for. That would explain why British forensic pathologists knew to suspect Polonium when Litvinenko came down with mysterious poisoning symptoms which no doctor would ordinarily connect with a rare radioactive substance. If MI6 believed Jihadis or some other terrorist groups were in the market for Polonium it would be natural for them to attempt to infiltrate the smuggling network. Whoever he was working for, Litvinenko once in the middle of this dangerous transaction, would be in extreme danger. All the parties would have an incentive to kill a man who might be an infiltrator, double-agent or dirty-bomb smuggler. Whatever hat Litvinenko wore, someone would see it as black. But again, why the Polonium?
The chief argument against it being used to assassinate a man aware of its existence was that it took too long to kill him. It worked too slowly to silence him. Given that circumstance, here's my own speculative explanation. Litvinenko may have been working for MI6. He was asked to set up a buy for Polonium, in a classic buy-bust operation, to see who showed up. And the Russians showed up. But somewhere along the line he was contaminated accidentally or perhaps purposely contaminated once he was suspected of fronting for the British in a way made to look accidental by the Russians. Litvinenko died and MI6 was left with the problem of what to do with a dead agent and a bad buy-bust deal. They did the only thing left. The British took steps to blow the whole Russian Polonium-210 trade wide open by launching a high-profile public investigation and linking it back to the Kremlin. They made sure there were clues found all over Europe and that all of them pointed East. London's request for Luguvoy's extradition had no prospect of success. But it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was whether London could tie the Polonium-210 back to Moscow. If that was achieved, then any time Polonium-210 showed up again it could pinned on the Russian regime. That was what Litvinenko's death bought. From Moscow's vantage it was not enough to resist the extradition. It was also necessary to muddle the waters. What Luguvoy is trying to do is blow smoke by claiming Litvinenko was working for MI6. Maybe he was, but it also doesn't matter. The only thing that counts is that the Polonium-210 came from Russia. From Russia, but not from Russia with Love.