How the Killing of a Fugitive Russian Spy Could Complicate the War on ISIS

The release of a British inquiry into the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko comes at a delicate diplomatic moment for the UK and Russia.

Nikolsky Alexei/TASS/ZUMA Press

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


A British inquiry is set to officially blame the Russian government for the 2006 killing of a former Russian spy in London. But British diplomats will reportedly ask Prime Minister David Cameron not to retaliate against Russia, fearing that sanctions or other measures could sour relations and jeopardize peace talks over Syria.

Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian intelligence whistleblower who fled to the UK and eventually began working for Britain’s MI6, died in 2006 after he was poisoned with radioactive polonium, which was apparently placed in a cup of tea at London’s Millennium Hotel. While on his deathbed, he helped investigators trace the element that killed him back to his assassins. The independent panel that investigated his death will probably say those assassins were sent by the Russian government. “It is most expectable that Russia will be connected somehow to this crime,” Igor Sutyagin of the Royal United Service Institute, a defense think tank in London, told Reuters.

The Guardian reported on Tuesday that while the UK may ask Russia to extradite Litvinenko’s alleged killers, diplomats don’t want to impose new sanctions against Russia or impose travel bans on any Russian officials. “The Foreign Office is eager to avoid a full blown row partly because Putin’s cooperation is badly needed to create a unified front against Islamic State in Syria,” wrote reporters Patrick Wintour and Luke Harding.

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate