The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday ruled Russia “responsible” for the assassination of ex-spy in exile Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with polonium 210 in the United Kingdom in 2006, attracting the critics of Moscow, who denounced a form of “political” justice.
Seized by the widow of Mr. Litvinenko, the ECHR is based in particular on the content of the British public inquiry. It concluded in 2016 that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “probably approved” the murder.
In a press release, the Court, which sits in Strasbourg, considers that there is “a strong presumption” that the perpetrators of the poisoning designated by the British investigation, Dmitri Kovtoun and Andreï Lougovoï, “acted as agents of the Russian State ”.
The ECHR underlines that “if the Russian authorities were foreign to the actions of the duo, they would be the only ones to have the information required to prove it”.
However, Moscow did not provide a “satisfactory and convincing” explanation, “nor refuted the conclusions of the British public inquiry”.
Thus, the Court “considers that the assassination of Mr. Litvinenko is attributable to Russia”.
« Russophobie »
The European magistrates also stress that the Russian authorities “did not conduct an effective internal investigation” which would have made it possible to identify and try those responsible for the murder and did not provide the documents requested to the Court.
They therefore found Russia guilty of violations of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to life, and of Article 38, which obliges states to provide the ECHR with all the documents necessary for the examination of a case.
Russia was ordered to pay 100,000 euros for non-pecuniary damage to Marina Litvinenko, the ex-spy’s widow, a particularly high sum in view of the Court’s case law.
“It’s an important day,” reacted Mme Litvinenko on SkyNews. “It is essential for Russia to assume its responsibilities […], and that we continue the fight against this undemocratic regime. “
Moscow was quick to criticize the judges’ “unfounded” decision. With this judgment, the ECHR “seeks to play a political role and helps to maintain an atmosphere of Russophobia”, declared Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry.
It is essential that Russia takes responsibility […], and that we continue the fight against this undemocratic regime
For his part, Andrei Lougovoy, now a member of the Russian Parliament, denounced on social networks a decision “which has nothing to do with the law”, believing that the ECHR was shooting “a bullet in the foot” in what concerns his reputation.
A former KGB and then FSB agent, Alexandre Litvinenko was dismissed from the Russian security services after sulphurous, often unverifiable revelations: he had thus made public the order of his management to assassinate the controversial businessman Boris Berezovski, a regular at the Kremlin salons.
Having been granted asylum in the United Kingdom in 2001, Litvinenko had continued to denounce corruption and the alleged links of Russian intelligence services to organized crime.
He died on November 23, 2006, a few days after sharing tea with Dmitri Kovtoun and Andreï Lougovoi in a London hotel, where significant traces of polonium 210, an extremely toxic radioactive substance, were subsequently found.
While he was dying, he had pointed the finger at the responsibility of Vladimir Putin.
The assassination of Alexander Litvinenko had seriously cooled relations between London and Moscow. After the affair, the UK had restricted visas for Russian officials and expelled four diplomats. In response, Moscow also expelled four British diplomats and cut off cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
In 2018, another poisoning case, which nearly claimed the lives of ex-Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, in the south of England, again poisoned diplomatic relations between the United States. two countries. The poisoning had caused a collateral victim and had caused reciprocal expulsions of diplomats unprecedented since the end of the Cold War.
Coincidentally, British police on Tuesday announced the indictment of a third Russian intelligence officer in this case, while two others are already subject to arrest warrants. Here again, the Kremlin has always denied any involvement.