Alexander Litvinenko in his hospital bed after being poisoned. Photo: Reuters
BRITISH security services handed Alexander Litvinenko a confidential government document that summarised private meetings held with a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Independent has learnt.
MI6 allegedly asked the late spy to provide ‘‘expert analysis’’ on a four-page confidential Foreign Office report that detailed a visit to London in 2000 by Sergei Ivanov – who is now the second-most-powerful figure in the Kremlin.
The diplomatic telegraph – known as a ‘‘DipTel’’ and circulated to British embassies around the world – outlined private talks between Mr Ivanov – at the time Russia’s top security adviser – and British intelligence officials in Downing Street, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence.
Mr Litvinenko’s relationship with British intelligence has been cited as a possible motive for his murder, and the documents provide fresh evidence of potentially close links between MI6 and the former KGB agent and arch-critic of President Putin. Mr Litvinenko fled Russia for Britain in November 2000 and died in 2006.
At the time of Mr Ivanov’s trip, between October 30 and November 1, 2000, London and Moscow were as close as they had been for decades. The visit was described as the ‘‘first meeting between such senior security officials from Britain and Russia’’.
However, Britain’s decision to harbour Russian dissidents such as Mr Litvinenko angered President Putin, and relations deteriorated dramatically when the spy was poisoned soon after meeting two fellow former KGB agents at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair. The two spies, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, both deny involvement in his death and Russia has angered Whitehall by refusing to extradite them for questioning in Britain.
Sir Robert Owen, the coroner investigating Mr Litvinenko’s death, was due to publish some secret government documents which may have shed further light on the spy’s links to MI6 and Russia’s alleged role in his death. But he was overruled in the High Court on Wednesday after Foreign Secretary William Hague successfully won a judicial review of the decision. Mr Justice Goldring concluded that publishing the documents could cause a ‘‘risk of significant damage to national security’’ and outweighed the need for a ‘‘full and proper’’ inquest. But the official restrictions on certain information relating to Mr Litvinenko have not prevented the late spy’s friend Yuri Felshtinsky making more embarrassing claims.
In an updated version of Blowing Up Russia, which the Russian academic co-wrote with Mr Litvinenko in 2002, the Russian historian wrote: ‘‘Among the many documents Alexander gave me in London in the beginning of 2003 was one that shows how close he had become to MI6. It relates to the visit of KGB-FSB general Sergei Ivanov to London.
‘‘This four-page confidential document about the highly-sensitive visit ... was given to Alexander by MI6 for expert analysis.’’ The Independent has seen the ‘‘DipTel’’ in question. The Foreign Office memo outlines British officials’ thoughts of Mr Ivanov and an analysis of his positions on a range of topics, including global terrorism, Iran, China, and NATO.
Diplomats said the now 60-year-old was ‘‘peddling the usual Russian arguments’’ on a range of subjects on which Moscow disagreed with London. The memo says Mr Ivanov ‘‘gave no ground on Iraq’’ and there was ‘‘no sign of a new approach to Chechnya’’.
‘‘[He] reiterated Russia’s negative view of NATO and saw little prospect of rapid improvement,’’ it reads. ‘‘Although he loosened up over dinner, claiming that Russia was not trying to split NATO and implying that part of the problem was the difficulty of bringing the military along.’’
The Foreign Office noted ‘‘not much give on Iran’’ from Mr Ivanov, who ‘‘defended present Russian engagement and their involvement in nuclear co-operation’’ with the Islamic Republic which was causing consternation in Western circles at the time.
During one dinner, a Russian official called ‘‘Chernov’’ is said to have launched a ‘‘diatribe’’ about the threat to ‘‘world security’’ posed by the internet. ‘‘He depicted the internet as the major global threat over the next five to 10 years,’’ the memo says. Mr Ivanov later described Russian media legislation as ‘‘one of the most liberal in the world’’.
The memo reveals British officials said Mr Ivanov ‘‘came over well – serious and authoritative, but tinged with humour’’, although the visit was marked by a ‘‘rigidity in the more formal meetings’’ and his juniors ‘‘were not encouraged to speculate’’.
Referring to the current legal impasse over the inquest, Mr Felshtinsky, speaking from his home in the US, said: ‘‘I do not understand why there is a conspiracy of silence. Everyone knows Alex worked for MI6.’’ Last year, the inquest into Mr Litvinenko’s death heard he was a ‘‘paid employee of MI6 with a dedicated handler whose pseudonym was Martin’’. It was also alleged that the spy was supplying Spanish intelligence with information on Russian mafia activity in Spain.
Blowing Up Russia alleges that the 1999 bombings in Moscow that were attributed to Chechen terrorists were committed by Russian security services and used by Moscow to justify a war in Chechnya that helped bring Mr Putin to power.
In 2007, Mikhail Trepashkin, who conducted a review of the 1999 bombings, said his sources had told him that ‘‘everyone involved in the publication of Blowing up Russia will be killed’’. He also claimed three Russian agents made a trip to Boston to examine the possibility of killing Mr Felshtinsky. The British Foreign Office declined to comment.