Widow Of Alexander Litvinenko Says West ‘must End Story Of Monster Putin’

Marina Litvinenko has a warning for the world as she continues to speak out on the 16th anniversary of her husband Alexander’s death (Picture: Susannah Ireland)

Sixteen years ago, Alexander Litvinenko warned that Vladimir Putin was capable of starting a war in Europe that would claim millions of lives.

A week later, the former intelligence officer was dead, poisoned by Russian agents with the highly radioactive isotope polonium 210.  

Today, his widow, Marina, prepares to visit her husband’s grave in north London as his warnings about the Russian president’s appetite for mass destruction seem increasingly prophetic.

Ms Litvinenko says the West helped give rise to the ‘monster’ whose full-scale invasion of Ukraine is a ‘war on civilisation’ that has left thousands of others to mourn loved ones ultimately killed by the Russian state.

The Kremlin critic told Metro.co.uk that her husband, who she knows as Sasha, had been trying to save the world but his warnings were not heeded by western powers.

‘I don’t blame anyone for not listening to Sasha at the time, because it was a different situation, but for me it makes me even more proud of him,’ she says. 

‘He was trying to save not only his country, Russia, not only his family, us, but the world.  

‘In an article he wrote in 2006, just a few days before he was fatally poisoned, Sasha wrote, “if you don’t stop this monster, he will start a war and millions of people will die”.

‘Now, finally, it is happening.’

Marina Litvinenko was told by her husband Alexander not to be silent and she has continued to be a prominent Kremlin opponent (Picture: Susannah Ireland)

Ms Litvinenko last week attended a ceremony to open Boris Nemtsov Place in Highgate, north London.

The politician, a fierce critic of Mr Putin, was shot dead outside the Kremlin in February 2015 shortly before he was due to lead a protest against the Russian incursion into eastern Ukraine.

Ms Litvinenko, who lives in west London, views the assassination as part of story that also takes in her husband’s killing and has the potential to engulf the wider world.

‘This is all part of one story,’ she says. ‘The death of my husband, the death of an independent politician in Russia. It has to end now, not to allow Putin to write another chapter; a war in Europe, a world war.’ 

Alexander Litvinenko fell ill in November 2006 after radioactive polonium-210 was slipped into his tea at a sushi restaurant in London. He died from radiation poisoning three weeks later (pictured in hospital shortly before his death)
Alexander Litvinenko in the intensive care unit at University College Hospital in 2006 after being poisoned with polonium 210 (Picture: PA)

However Ms Litvinenko does not think that Russia will press the nuclear button, despite Mr Putin’s continued sabre-rattling — which included the president saying ‘this is not a bluff’ in one speech.

‘The order to use a nuclear bomb is not just down to one person,’ she says.

‘I believe not everybody is as crazy as Putin, they might not be able to say it openly, but they definitely don’t want to die for Putin.’

Mr Litvinenko, who had exposed corruption in Russia, died in a London hospital on November 23, 2006.

It transpired that the former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer had ingested tea containing the radioactive substance. Marina and their son, Anatoly, and Mr Litvinenko’s father, Walter, were at his bedside in University College Hospital when he died.

A public inquiry in 2016 concluded that the hit was carried out three weeks earlier at the Millennium Hotel in the city by Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, probably with Mr Putin’s approval. 

In September 2021, the European Court of Human Rights also ruled that there was ‘a strong prima facie case’ that the 43-year-old had died at the hands of the former soldiers. 

The latest finding was given after the case was brought by Ms Litvinenko, who has pursued her fight for justice through the courts. 

Marina Litvinenko, wife of Alexander Litvinenko, who was assassinated by the Russian government in 2006, pictured in London, November 15th 2022. Next Wednesday (23rd November) marks the 16th anniversary of her husband's death, who was poisoned by radioactive polonium 210 in a London hotel. Marina has spoken of her fierce determination to be a voice opposed to Putin and his war in Ukraine. An ITV television drama 'Litvinenko' starring David Tennant will be aired later this month. Photo credit: Susannah Ireland
Marina Litvinenko warned of the potential for the war in Ukraine to spread out beyond its borders into the outside world (Picture: Susannah Ireland)

‘What makes me sad is that Putin’s regime has been allowed to grow stronger over the last 22 years,’ she says. 

‘He has been allowed to build up this image of being the strongest, most ruthless person in the world and the West helped to give rise to this monster. There were all these discussions about comforting him and negotiating with him.

‘The attitude was, “it was very bad this killing by polonium” in London, but the West needed Russia as a big business partner. It needs to be stopped.’  

Marina Litvinenko, the wife of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, arrives with her son Anatoly at the Royal Courts of Justice, London, where the findings of the inquiry into his death will be revealed. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday January 21, 2016. Mr Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who left Russia and claimed asylum in the UK in 2000, died in November 2006 aged 43 after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium in a London hotel. See PA story INQUIRY Litvinenko. Photo credit should read: Philip Toscano/PA Wire
Marina Litvinenko arrives with her son Anatoly at the Royal Courts of Justice in London to hear the findings of the inquiry into Alexander’s death (Picture: Philip Toscano/PA Wire)

Mr Litvinenko’s prescient work included pinpointing the influence of Nikolai Patrushev, a Kremlin spy chief who has been spreading disinformation and propaganda about the war in Ukraine. Mr Patrushev is likely to have also approved the operation to kill the dissident, according to the public inquiry.

‘Now everyone is talking about Patrushev as if he is the biggest influence on Putin,’ Ms Litvinenko said. 

As for the Russian military’s supreme commander himself, Ms Litvinenko, 60, does not believe the world knows who the real person is behind the strongman mask. 

‘We don’t know the real Putin,’ she says.  

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 9: (RUSSIA OUT) Russian President Vladimir Putin leaves the scene during the award ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of Russia's Federal Medical-Biological Agency (FMBA) at the State Kremlin Palace, November 9, 2022, in Moscow, Russia. President Putin is expected to skip the G20 Leaders Summit and APEC Summit this November. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin has built up a strongman image that has included bloody military campaigns in neighbouring countries (Picture: Contributor/Getty Images)

‘He has been given an iron man image by the people who put him in power and his inner circle, but he is an absolutely virtual person. When you ask how much the war in Ukraine will isolate him, you get opposite answers from people inside and outside of Russia. He either controls everything, or nothing.’ 

However the projection of strength is not reflected in a country where mass mobilisation has been introduced in response to humiliating defeats on the battlefield in Ukraine.

‘Putin used his image to make people think Russia was a great country, but it is no longer a great country, it is a country with a long, huge territory and a very small population,’ Ms Litvinenko says. ‘Under Putin it has become poorer, less educated, less progressive and more aggressive.’

A roundabout has been named after assassinated Russian politician Boris Nemtsov in London (Picture: Camden Council)
Marina Litvinenko said her husband’s story is intertwined with that of Russian politician Boris Nemtsov who has been memorialised in north London (Picture: Camden Council)

Mr Litvinenko’s story is being kept in the public eye by a new ITVX drama, where David Tennant will play the former KGB officer and Margarita Levieva will star as his wife.

Due to air next month under the title Litvinenko, the series has recreated the arresting image of the defector lying in a hospital bed after drinking tea poisoned with the radioactive substance.

‘I am grateful for what has happened to British society since 2006,’ Ms Litvinenko says.  

‘Sasha’s name is still in the memory, it is shown in the dramatisation and in articles. Even with what has happened in Ukraine, people have remembered what Sasha tried to say about Putin and his politics. 

‘While Sasha is not physically alive his voice is still alive. Sasha asked me not to be silent, he did not want me to be his voice, and while I was unsure at first, now I know how important it is.’  

Alexander Litvinenko
Marina and Alexander Litvinenko are shown in a photograph taken in London’s Holland Park as they resettled in the UK in November 2000 (Picture: REX/Shutterstock)
Widow of Alexander Litvinenko says West ‘must end story of monster Putin’
Alexander Litvinenko is shown with his book entitled ‘Blowing Up Russia: Terror From Within’ at his home in London (Picture: AP Photo/Alistair Fuller, File)

Ms Litvinenko will today gather with family and friends at her husband’s graveside in Highgate as they mark 16 years to the day of his death.

The anniversary comes at the end of year in which she visited Ukraine, where she gave blood for injured soldiers, and as the country faces a harsh winter, with Moscow using barrages of missiles and drones to target the civilian infrastructure.

‘When the war started people were saying Russia would install a marionette president in Ukraine and the West would have to negotiate with this new regime,’ she says.

‘But I knew 100% Ukraine would never give up.

‘Of course, what is happening now is unbelievably bad, with so many refugees, families separated, and people dying, with towns and cities being destroyed.

‘But I am just so very proud of Ukrainians’ bravery as they save their nation and for still being so strong. Ukraine has shown what Russia might be and what it really means to fight for your country.’

Marina Litvinenko, wife of Alexander Litvinenko, who was assassinated by the Russian government in 2006, pictured in London, November 15th 2022. Next Wednesday (23rd November) marks the 16th anniversary of her husband's death, who was poisoned by radioactive polonium 210 in a London hotel. Marina has spoken of her fierce determination to be a voice opposed to Putin and his war in Ukraine. An ITV television drama 'Litvinenko' starring David Tennant will be aired later this month. Photo credit: Susannah Ireland
Marina Litvinenko believes the time has come to stop appeasing Vladimir Putin and to write the final chapter in the story of his aggressive rule (Credits: Susannah Ireland)

In the European court ruling, Moscow was ordered to pay Ms Litvinenko £85,600 in damages and £19,300 in costs and expenses. Attempts to bring the two suspects to face British justice in person failed with the Kremlin refusing to extradite them to face trial.

Kovtun died at a Moscow hospital in June 2022 after reportedly falling ill with Covid.

However the legacy of the deadly FSB operation on British soil has taken on new dimensions.

In a deathbed statement, Mr Litvinenko expressed his love for Marina and Anatoly and told the Russian president: ‘You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.

‘May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.’

Ms Litvinenko traces a line to Mr Putin’s brutal and faltering war in Ukraine, now in its ninth month.

‘I see a strong link between what happened to my husband and what is happening now in Ukraine,’ she says.

‘This is not a war of Putin against Ukraine, this is a war against civilisation and Ukraine is in the frontline.

‘We are all suffering now, but there is no comparison with how the Ukrainian people are suffering.

‘If Putin wins this war, it will be even worse than we can possibly imagine.’

Russia has always denied any involvement in Mr Litvinenko’s death.

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