Home News Timeline: How the Litvinenko murder unfolded

Timeline: How the Litvinenko murder unfolded

Published on September 21, 2021

As Europe’s top rights court rules that Russia was responsible for the murder of dissident former agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, we look at how President Vladimir Putin’s arch foe was poisoned with radioactive polonium.

Here is a timeline:

– 2006: Poison tea –

On October 16, 2006 Litvinenko visits the London offices of private security company Erinys to meet former KGB bodyguard turned businessman Andrei Lugovoi and former Red Army soldier Dmitri Kovtun.

An inquiry establishes that an initial radiation poisoning attempt was likely to have been made at this meeting.

Litvinenko, now a British citizen, meets Lugovoi and Kovtun again on November 1 in a London hotel for tea. Litvinenko falls ill and his condition steadily deteriorates.

– 2006: Finger points to Putin –

On November 23 Litvinenko dies in a London hospital. In a letter apparently dictated on his deathbed, he accuses Putin of being behind his murder. Putin says the death is being used for political purposes.

Five days later traces of radioactivity are found in a series of London locations, on planes used on the Moscow-London route and at the London office of exiled businessman Boris Berezovsky — a former Putin ally turned bitter foe.

On December 6 British police say they are treating Litvinenko’s death as murder.

– 2007: Blame game –

British authorities say in May they want to charge Lugovoi and demand his extradition. He denies involvement and Russia refuses extradition.

On May 31 Lugovoi says that Litvinenko was a British agent and accuses the British secret service, the Russian mafia or Berezovsky of orchestrating the murder. Berezovsky blames the Kremlin.

In July Britain and Russia expel diplomats in tit-for-tat moves.

Lugovoi in November again protests his innocence and accuses the British secret services of a cover up.

Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, accuses Putin of blocking investigations into the death.

– 2013: Public inquiry needed –

A coroner in June delays an inquest, ruling that a government-sanctioned public inquiry would be more appropriate.

The following month the government rules out a public inquiry.

– 2014: British U-turn –

In January Marina Litvinenko applies to London’s High Court, which later rules that the government was wrong to deny an inquiry.

On July 22 then interior minister Theresa May does a U-turn announcing a public inquiry authorised to hear intelligence not previously allowed in the inquest.

– 2016: Russia ‘probably did it’ –

The public inquiry concludes on January 21 that the Russian state “probably” approved Litvinenko’s murder, and that it was carried out by Lugovoi and Kovtun.

London freezes the assets of the two men.

– 2017: US sanctions –

The United States in January slaps sanctions on Russia’s most senior criminal investigator and Lugovoi and Kovtun.

– 2021: ‘Russia responsible’ –

The European Court of Human Rights rules on Tuesday that “Russia was responsible for the assassination”, a verdict swiftly rejected by Moscow as “unfounded”.