Widow of Poisoned Litvinenko Releases Book

Last fall, former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko was fatally poisoned with Polonium-210. The radioactive material left a trail that eventually led to another Russian former agent. Litvinenko's wife Marina, and Alex Goldfarb, disclose details in their new book Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The death of Alexander Sasha Litvinenko reads like a cloak-and-dagger tale. As former Russian intelligence officer who'd become an outspoken critic of the Putin government, came to the world's attention last fall when he fell ill from a mysterious poison. It turned out to be deadly Polonium-210, which left a trail of radioactivity from London to Moscow.

Last month, British prosecutor Ken MacDonald announced that the radioactivity led to another former agent by the name of Andrei Lugovoi.

Mr. KEN MacDONALD (Prosecutor): I have today concluded that the evidence sent to us by the police is sufficient to charge Andrei Lugovoi with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko by deliberate poisoning.

MONTAGNE: Now a new book delves into the twists and turns of this story -"Death of a Dissident" by fellow dissident Alex Goldfarb and Litvinenko's widow Marina, begins in London. The Litvinenkos are celebrating the sixth anniversary of fleeing Russia.

Ms. MARINA LITVINENKO (Alexander Litvinenko's Wife; Co-Author, "Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB"): It was quite special day for us, just this November. It's exactly the day when we started our life in England. And when he became suddenly ill, almost it was midnight, I was surprised because it was the same food for me, and I didn't feel anything wrong.

MONTAGNE: Given your husband's outspoken criticism of President Putin and his government, did you fear the worst?

Ms. LITVINENKO: Actually, like a normal person, I tried to think it's something more simple. But Sasha started to concern about it's going to be poisoning immediately. And the next day, he felt so exhausted, and he looked horrible.

Mr. ALEX GOLDFARB (Co-Author, "Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB"): Well, there were several poisonings and killings over the past several years - none of them, of course, in the West, but all of involving critics of Putin. The last and the most famous one was Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who was shot at the door of her house in Moscow.

And so Sasha was obviously on the alert. But on the other hand, he felt perfectly safe that he's just received British citizenship, and nobody would think that someone would dare to hit him in London.

MONTAGNE: Alex Goldfarb, take us back to the moment that Sasha Litvinenko actually made news for the first time. He was an officer in the area of organized crime and a successor to the KGB, what's become the sort of FBI of Russia.

Mr. GOLDFARB: Well, actually, it was in the end of 97 when he and a group of officers filed a formal complaint - internal complaint against the kind of orders they were getting, plans to execute several people, kidnappings linked to organized crime. And among those orders, there was a plan to assassinate Boris Berezovsky, who became sensational because of who Berezovsky was.

MONTAGNE: He was someone who had helped groom Vladimir Putin to take over after Yeltsin.

Mr. GOLDFARB: He was one of the probably three people who picked Putin to become Yeltsin's successor and engineered his campaign and TV coverage which eventually led Putin to power. And Putin called him my brother. But then they fell apart, and Berezovsky had to flee the country and ask for asylum in Britain.

MONTAGNE: This falling out between two of Russia's most powerful men came about after Boris Berezovsky publicly called Putin's policy anti-democratic. Later, Berezovsky befriended Sasha Litvinenko and helped his family escape to Britain, which ultimately became the setting for the polonium poisoning and the question of who did it.

Now, British prosecutors have since accused Andrei Lugovoi - a former KGB officer who met with Sasha Litvinenko - of the murder. There's a trail of radioactive material that sort of follows them through the day and is connected up to him. Now, British authorities are seeking to get Andrei Lugovoi extradited from Russia. He says he's innocent, though, and one of the charges he makes is that Sasha Litvinenko is himself a British spy, and that there were various other agencies who had reason to want him dead. What do you say to that?

Ms. LITVINENKO: Of course, everything what Andrei Lugovoi will say is not any sense at all, because Sasha never been any agent when he was in England. And again, for me, he's first suspect of murdering my husband.

Mr. GOLDFARB: Yes. Well, polonium-210 is not produced anywhere but in a state-controlled nuclear labs, and it should be under strict control by the government. So this is the main reason why we believe that Russian government is behind this murder. It's a state-sponsored assassination.

MONTAGNE: And, of course, it's important to say that Vladimir Putin has commented on this. He said that the Russian secret service has considered Litvinenko an insignificant target. They wouldn't have bothered killing him, and that the whole question of his involvement, that is Putin's involvement, is ridiculous.

Mr. GOLDFARB: I would grant Mr. Putin that he perhaps didn't have reasons to kill Sasha directly, but Sasha was a part of the group which is extremely irritating to Mr. Putin, headed by Mr. Berezovsky, a Russian tycoon. He has a political asylum in England. So this assassination should be viewed in the context of this continuous argument about providing asylum to political dissidents.

MONTAGNE: And here's where author Alex Goldfarb veers into John le Carre territory. He alleges that the Kremlin had his friend Litvinenko murdered in order to pin it on the man they really wanted to get, Boris Berezovsky. Last Friday, Russia's security agency announced it was opening an espionage investigation based on the statements by Andrei Lugovoi, who has suggested Berezovsky had a hand in the death of Alexander Sasha Litvinenko. Even Alex Goldfarb calls this a house of mirrors.

Mr. GOLDFARB: We told the story as we see it. It's obviously a one-sided story, and it's up to the Russian government to respond in a constructive way. What next? What can I tell you?

MONTAGNE: Is it possible that there will never be an answer?

Ms. LITVINENKO: It's important for me, it's important for our son Anatoly why he's father died and who did it. I know it's not easy, but history will not finish just now. Probably one day, I will see who did it and why.

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MONTAGNE: Marina Litvinenko and Alex Goldfarb are authors of "Death of a Dissident."

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MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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