Diplomatic Row Brews Over Spy's Radiation Death

July 7, 2008 - 8:17 PM

(Editor's note: Three people in London have checked into a medical clinic for radiological tests as a precaution, British press reports said on Monday. The three had contact with either the hotel or sushi bar that former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko visited earlier this month.).)

London (CNSNews.com) - Relations between the United Kingdom and Russia, both key U.S. allies, have hit a rough patch, following the death by radiation poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London.

The former agent and outspoken opponent of Russian president Vladimir Putin dictated a statement from his deathbed accusing Putin of involvement -- a claim Moscow has strongly denied.

British MP Peter Hain indicated in an interview that U.K. relations with the Kremlin were at an all-time low following the incident, and Hain criticized the Russian President for his "huge attacks" on liberty and democracy. He also mentioned the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, whose death Litvinenko had been investigating when he was poisoned.

"The promise that President Putin brought to Russia when he came to power has obviously been clouded by what has happened since, including an extremely murky murder of a senior Russian journalist," Hain said.

"And there's lots of things that have been happening in Russia which actually cast a cloud over President Putin's success in binding the place together and in achieving economic stability out of chaos."

The mysterious illness and death of Litvinenko, 43, has caused turmoil in the U.K. The former spy fell ill on November 1 after visiting the Millennium Hotel in London's Mayfair district and the Itsu sushi restaurant in Piccadilly. He died on November 23rd as doctors searched for the cause of his illness.

Investigators later found quantities of highly radioactive polonium-210 in his body. Traces of the radioactive substance also were found at the hotel and restaurant that Litvinenko had visited. Police have since found contamination at other addresses across the U.K. capital. Decontamination is taking place, said health authorities.

Cobra, the U.K. government's emergencies committee, has met on several occasions since the death to discuss the security and health implications.

Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister, told journalists: "What everyone seems to forget is that this guy was a naturalized British citizen and they (Cobra) take a very dim view of British citizens being murdered on British streets by foreign nationals."

Results are expected later this week on tests carried out by the Health Protection Agency on urine samples submitted by people who were at the hotel and restaurant on the same day that Litvinenko visited. Hundreds of people have called helplines for advice about contamination, but officials say the risk to the general public is low.

Experts say the use of polonium-210 as a murder weapon indicates that the killer had access to state sponsorship, since the radioactive toxin is almost impossible to acquire outside of a nuclear facility.

Later on Monday, British lawmakers confirmed that traces of radiation have been found at several more sites in London.

British Home Secretary John Reid told the House of Commons that indications of radiation had been found at "several other premises" in addition to Alexander Litvinenko's home and a central London hotel and restaurant he visited on November 1.

Reid also said that "less than five" people had been taken for further radiological tests, after 500 called a health phoneline.

The Home Secretary stressed that there was no danger to the general public due to the small distances that the radiation is able to travel. He also stressed that police are keeping an open mind, but are investigating the death as suspicious.

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