Saturday 17 March 2018

While MI5 kept its focus on terrorism, Russian intelligence spotted an opening

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin "probably approved" the murder of Litvinenko, according to the British enquiry Photo:Reuters
The last photo taken of poisoned spy Alexander Litvinenko alive Photo: Litvinenko Inquiry/PA Wire

David Blair

The public inquiry into the fate of Alexander Litvinenko lifted the veil on a particularly sordid Russian intelligence operation. We know that his murder was "directed" by the FSB and "probably approved" by Vladimir Putin himself. But how great is the espionage threat from Russia?

The Cold War is supposedly over, but Litvinenko's death provides vivid evidence of how the FSB and the SVR - the twin successors of the old KGB - continue to treat some countries such as Britain as priority targets.

Litvinenko's murder suggests that intelligence services are fighting an uphill battle against their Russian adversaries. The one crumb of good news, perversely, may be the fact that the FSB poisoned their target with polonium. Rather than stage a completely brazen murder, they did, at least, go to some trouble to cover their tracks and keep the deadly poison undetectable.

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