ECHR rules Russia was responsible for death of Litvinenko, former FSB agent who defected to Britain's MI6 – Moscow denies role

Europe's top human rights court has ruled that Moscow's security services were behind the 2006 death by poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian intelligence officer who moved to London and defected to Britain's MI6.

In a judgement issued on Tuesday morning, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) concluded that "Russia was responsible for assassination of Litvinenko in the UK."

The spy, who ran key operations in the war-torn region of Chechnya during the bloody civil conflict in the early 1990s, began working for the UK's MI6 foreign intelligence service after leaving Russia in 2000. He was recruited, officials said, to provide "useful information about senior Kremlin figures and their links with Russian organised crime." In his absence a court in Moscow found him guilty of corruption and sentenced him to three-and-a-half years behind bars.

Litvenenko died in a London hospital in 2006. British investigators alleged that he was poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope, Polonium 210, which they said had been slipped into his tea during a meeting at a hotel in London. Authorities in the UK had previously claimed that Moscow was behind the purported assassination, and implicated two of the country's citizens, Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, in the incident.

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"The Court found in particular that there was a strong prima facie case that, in poisoning Mr Litvinenko, Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun had been acting as agents of the Russian state," the statement from the ECHR reads.

Russia has always maintained it played no role in the killing, saying the finger should be pointed at other potential suspects including British spies, organized crime groups and feuding Russian expatriates. Speaking from Moscow the year after Litvinenko's death, Lugovoy argued that "Britain is making me a scapegoat."

The decision is the latest in a series of unfavorable rulings handed down to Russia by the ECHR. In July, the court ruled that the country must formally recognize LGBT+ marriages after a complaint brought by three same-sex couples sought to challenge Moscow's policies, which define the institution as exclusively between a man and a woman. The Kremlin insisted it would not implement the requirements imposed by the justices, saying that to do so would violate the country's constitution.

Earlier this year, the ECHR also ruled that jailed opposition activist Alexey Navalny should be released from prison "with immediate effect," citing an alleged "risk to his life" if he remains behind bars. The country's Ministry of Justice, however, slammed the decision as "unenforceable," and said it amounted to "gross interference in the activities of the judiciary of a sovereign state."

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