The Covert Poisoning of an Ex-Russian Spy

The Covert Poisoning of an Ex-Russian Spy

– This week on Buzzfeed Unsolved, we investigate the suspicious
death of Alexander Litvinenko; an ex-Russian spy who died on UK soil following a meeting with
former KGB contacts. There’s a lot of political
intrigue to unpack in this tantalizing and
kind of tragic caper. – What is tantalizing, are you tantalized? – I mean, it’s just intriguing. – Anytime I hear tantalized,
I just imagine, like, “Yes.” Is that tantalizing? – I think it’s more like you’re intrigued. It’s very unique. – Okay, good, glad we’ve established that. – Cool. Who was the ill-fated
Alexander Litvinenko? Born in Russia, Litvinenko began working for the KGB in the 1980s and eventually became a Lieutenant Colonel after the KGB became the FSB, the counterintelligence and internal security service in Russia. There, he is believed to have had a falling out over FSB corruption, with his ultimate
superior, Vladimir Putin. Litvinenko also wrote a book called Blowing Up Russia: Terror From Within after leaving the service. In the book, he asserts that in 1999, FSB agents bombed apartment blocks in Moscow and other cities. These bombings were previously said to have been carried out
be Chechen separatists, but in the book, Litvinenko suggested that these bombings were
used as a justification for the Russian invasion of
Chechnya for the second time. – [Shane] So he’s burnin’ all his bridges? – [Ryan] Yeah. – [Shane] Which is a gutsy choice if your previous employer was the KGB. – Why, you gotta imagine that if you know all this intel, and it’s bad intel, you would have a
considerable amount of guilt, if you are a good person. And he strikes me as a good guy. I mean, he doesn’t care what
happens to him obviously. – Maybe he’s trying to
clear his conscience of it. – Yeah, but you know by
clearing your conscience, that’s gonna come with
some consequences for you. – Heavy price to pay. – In 2000, citing persecution,
Litvinenko fled to the UK, where he was granted asylum. Once in the UK, he did
not conceal his loathing for Russia’s leader,
criticizing Putin publicly. Litvinenko was part of a circle
of exiled Russian critics and in 2003, Litvinenko
was recruited by MI6. He provided information about
senior figures in the Kremlin and their connections to
organized crime in Russia, while also possessing information about the Russian mafia’s work in Spain. Litvinenko informed authorities he had faced harassment and dead threats essentially since he fled to the UK. For example, Major Andrei
Ponkin, a former colleague, reportedly contacted him
in 2001 saying, quote, “You will either be brought
back in a body bag to Russia, “or pushed in front of
a train,” end quote. Litvinenko is believed to have become a British citizen in 2006, the same year he mysteriously died. – At this point, I would turn my house into a full-blown panic
room, a panic house. – Is that living? – That’d be a good sequel. Well, it is living, technically. It’s better than being dead. – Is it? I mean, you’re essentially
dead at that point, you’re dead to the world. – But not to yourself. – Yeah, but you’re just
living in a panic room for the rest of your life,
that doesn’t seem fun. – You could still FaceTime with people, watch a funny movie. – I’d rather die. – You’d rather die than sit around eating popcorn and watching funny movies? – I guess I’m a bit of an
extrovert, I would say. So if I had to be forced to live in this fortress of solitude– – Invite your friends over. – Yeah, but they probably
wouldn’t wanna come because they know, “Oh,
we can’t go over there “because we’ll be marked men.” – (chuckling) That’s true. – [Ryan] On November 1st,
2006, Litvinenko had tea at the Millennium Hotel in Central London with Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun, two former Russian agents. It’s said that Litvinenko
had been planning to travel to Spain with Lugovoy and that he was investigating the Russia mafia’s connections to Spain. It’s worth noting that
Litvinenko had also been investigating the murder
of Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist
who, prior to being shot at her apartment block in
Moscow the month before, had received death threats. After this meeting with
Lugovoy and Kovtun, Litvinenko became sick
and vomited all night. He was admitted to a London
hospital three days later, where his condition worsened. When BBC Russian service
interviewed Litvinenko on November 11th, Litvinenko
said that he was the victim of a, quote, “Serious
poisoning,” end quote, and that he was in, quote,
“Very bad shape,” end quote. On November 23rd, 2006, Litvinenko died with his family beside him. This was three weeks after his meeting with Lugovoy and Kovtun. Doctors were not able to diagnose Litvinenko’s condition
while he was hospitalized, but in the hours before his death, test results confirmed
tremendously high levels of the substance Polonium 210, a radioactive isotope in his body, finally revealing the
cause of his sickness. Doctor Nathaniel Cary, a home
office forensic pathologist, later said of the post-mortem
examination, quote, “It has been described
as the most dangerous “post-mortem examination ever undertaken “in the Western world and I think “that is probably right,” end quote. Litvinenko, this entire time that he was at the hospital had been
saying to reporters, “I think I’ve been poisoned.” – [Shane] Yeah. – [Ryan] By these two guys specifically. So if that’s the case, if I’m a doctor, I’m now looking for every possible source of poisoning that I can. – Yeah. – And they found it
hours before his death, that’s three weeks. – I’d be pretty pissed. – (laughing) Yeah, it’s not the kind of buzzer beater you want. – No. We’ve cracked it, bye! – [Ryan] But where did this
poisonous Polonium come from? Let’s jump in to the theories. The first theory we’ll
dig into today pertains to the official conclusions of
the Litvinenko inquiry report, compiled by the Chairman of
the Inquiry, Sir Robert Owen, published on January 21st, 2016, which explains that there
is a great deal of evidence implicating Andrey
Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun and their meeting with Litvinenko at the Millennium Hotel’s Pine Bar. Forensic evidence indicated high levels of Polonium 210 contamination
at the Pine Bar, with the greatest Polonium 210 readings coming from the inside
of one of the teapots and the table where
Litvinenko was sitting. None of the other places
Litvinenko went that day had any comparable level of contamination. Sir Owen writes, quote, “I
am sure that Mr. Lugovoy “and Mr. Kovtun placed the
Polonium 210 in the teapot “at the Pine Bar on November 1st, 2006. “I am also sure that they
did this with the intention “of poisoning Mr. Litvinenko,” end quote. Sir Owen explains that he is certain that they intended to kill Litvinenko and were aware they were
using a deadly substance; not, quote, “A truth drug or a
sleeping draught,” end quote. However, he does not
believe they understood exactly what kind of
substance they were using and he is sure Lugovoy
and Kovtun were poisoning Litvinenko on the orders of someone else. In the report, Owen says that it’s likely Litvinenko was poisoned
at the FSB’s direction, which at the time was
led by Nikolai Patrushev. Furthermore, Sir Owen was also certain Lugovoy and Kovtun attempted
to poison Litvinenko with Polonium 210 earlier,
on October 16th, 2006. – I’m an adult but sometimes– – Why did you start your
sentence off with that? You said it in a weird
way with a weird cadence. Like you don’t believe it. – But sometimes I have the mind of a child and I think you can relate to that because the whole time I’m hearing this, I don’t understand how
radiation poisoning works. I don’t know what you’re envisioning here. I am envisioning essentially
a green glow stick. – Yeah, me too, or
you’re envisioning, like, the case that Doc Brown
opens in Back to the Future. – Yeah, just glowing green,
like them pouring the tea and just a glowing green
tea that he’s drinking. – I imagine it’s not like that. – No, probably not. – It’s probably a little bit more– – Or like the ooze from Turtles 2. – Don’t think it’s like that either. I think it’s a little more discrete. Otherwise he would’ve been like, “Oh, this tea looks a little odd.” – “This tea looks like ooze.” – “It’s also neon so maybe
we shouldn’t drink it.” – Yeah, what is this,
ooze-long tea? (laughing) Okay, you can keep going. (laughing) – I don’t think you’re done
laughing at your own joke. You want some more time? Do you need some ooze-long tea yourself? – It’s even funny when you say it. (laughing) – Dumb, alright, well. – You didn’t poison this, did you? – I wish I did now. There is plenty of evidence that supports Sir Owen’s conclusions. Lugovoy and Kovtun left traces of Polonium all over their paths; on restaurant tables, in planes, even in an erotic nightclub. In fact, during the investigation, approximately 700 people had to be tested for radioactive poisoning, though no one proved seriously sick. The inquiry report
portrays Lugovoy and Kovtun as careless and bumbling, allowing the Polonium to be, quote, “Splashed around in hotel bathrooms “and mopped up with hotel towels “that were then left in
the hotel,” end quote. There was also support for the
idea that Lugovoy and Kovtun weren’t aware of the nature of the poison, given that Lugovoy also told his eight-year-old son to
shake hands with Litvinenko after he had consumed the poison. They clearly did not understand
the nature of radiation. – [Shane] No. – [Ryan] Which is funny,
because they were given the job to administer radiation. – [Shane] Yeah. I feel like anyone who did understand the nature of radiation
may say, “I’m good.” – [Ryan] This also makes me feel like, like, obviously Litvinenko and Putin had kind of disagreements in the past. But I bet you Litvinenko
was kind of far down on his list in terms of
people he wants to whack. – Yes. – So he didn’t exactly send out the A-Squad to go kill this guy. – Are we going to be poisoned
for doing this episode? I’m a little concerned. – Yeah, yeah, I think we’re gonna die. – Okay. I mean, we will. – We’re gonna die eventually. – Yeah. – You maybe sooner than others. – I’d like to live. – I’m sure you would. – Forever. – Okay, that’s not gonna happen. – You’ve ever wanted to
just see the universe just– – Implode? – Yeah. – No, ’cause I’m not really an anarchist. – No, it’s not even anarchy
because it’s not even disorder. It’s just nothing. – [Ryan] The inquiry
report also references a suspicious phone call
Kovtun made to a cook he knew. Kovtun was reportedly
trying to find a cook that would put, quote, “A very
expensive poison,” end quote in food or a beverage that
Litvinenko would consume. On November 1st, at 11:33
A.M., Kovtun tried to reach the cook, who was
not able to help him. Lugovoy called Litvinenko
only eight minutes later to arrange their meeting at the Millennium Hotel later that day. The report explains, quote,
“Once it had become apparent “to Mr. Lugovoy and Mr.
Kovtun that they would “not get any help from the cook, “at least not in the short term, “they decided to make another attempt “to poison Mr. Litvinenko themselves. “Their plan, which they
subsequently put into effect, “was to make this attempt in the Pine Bar “of the Millennium Hotel,” end quote. The report concludes by saying, quote, “The FSB operation to kill Mr. Litvinenko “was probably approved by Mr. Patrushev “and also by President Putin,” end quote. It seems secret evidence revealed in closed hearings of the
inquiry contributed to the report’s conclusion
that Putin and Patrushev probably approved the killing. Who within the Russian
state would have had a reason to murder Litvinenko? Well, for starters, he was thought of as a traitor by the FSB. After all, he had claimed
the FSB was responsible for the 1999 apartment bombings in Russia that contributed to the Chechen war. It was also known that
Litvinenko was working for MI6 and rubbed shoulders with Russian critics Boris Berezovsky and Akhmed Zakayev, a Chechen leader living in exile. The report also noted that the tension between Litvinenko and Putin was personal. In July, 2006, Litvinenko
publicly described Putin as a pedophile who
destroy tapes of himself having sex with underage boys, and shortly before he died
Litvinenko accused Putin of being behind Anna Politkovskaya’s
murder in October 2006. The inquiry report notes
that Putin and the Kremlin have since rewarded
Lugovoy a medal for, quote, “Services to the fatherland,” end quote. – [Shane] So, this is one
of those Unsolved cases that we sometimes have where it’s like, “Yeah, you sorta get
what’s going on here.” – [Ryan] You sorta get where
the wind is traveling here. – [Shane] You get it. – [Ryan] Yeah, also, it doesn’t look good when you award one of the main suspects a medal for “services to the fatherland”. – [Shane] I mean, what else did he do? Did he do anything else notable? – [Ryan] I don’t know. – [Shane] He didn’t, like, build a nice gazebo somewhere or something? – [Ryan] He sure made London
into his fuckin’ circus. – [Shane] Yeah. – [Ryan] Just radiation everywhere, spillin’ out of his pockets when he’s walking down the street, unbelievable. Lugovoy reportedly claimed
that MI6 had framed him. According to the inquiry report, Lugovoy protested, saying,
quote, “I was framed. “I suspect this was some
British Intelligence “operation involving Litvinenko “and possibly Berezovsky that went wrong. “I was contaminated by
Litvinenko or someone else, “not the other way round. “I think Polonium was planted on us “and left in places we visited,
to frame us,” end quote. However, the inquiry report
explains that a set up like Lugovoy was describing
would’ve required the conspirators to
contaminate a variety of places around London with a
radioactive substance, putting an enormous amount
of people in danger. Owen goes on to say,
quote, “I will simply say “that in all the oral evidence that “I have heard during this process, “in all the many thousands of pages “of documents that I have seen, “I have not come across
anything that would “even begin to substantiate the claims of “a set up made by Mr. Lugovoy,” end quote. Yeah, if this was something that was orchestrated by the British government, you don’t think they’d put this many British citizens in
fuckin’, you know, danger. – Yeah, that’s all they got, you know? They’re that little island out there. I mean, it’s a big island, but they’re not poisoning their own folks. – Yeah, I mean, I also
think if they wanted these two guys gone
there’s probably a better, more discrete way to do it. Moreover, Litvinenko’s
death seemingly fits into a pattern of strange deaths in the UK that have since been linked to Russia. In 2013, Boris Berezovsky was found dead in his home in the UK. The authorities said there
was no sign of a struggle, making it seem like a suicide
could be an explanation; however, Berezovsky had plenty
of enemies in the Kremlin. In 2012, Alexander Perepilichny, a financier who demonstrated evidence that Russian tax officials had
allegedly committed fraud, died unexpectedly while running in Surrey. According to US spies, there’s
intelligence that indicates he was likely, quote,
“Assassinated on direct orders “from Putin or people
close to him,” end quote. In March, 2018, a British spy
and former Russian official and his daughter were
poisoned with a nerve agent that left them in critical condition. Perhaps the most striking
part of this case lies in Litvinenko’s own certainty in who was responsible for his death. In an interview with the
Metropolitan Police Service, Litvinenko said, quote, “I
have no doubt whatsoever “that this was done by the
Russian Secret Services. “Having knowledge of the system I know “that the order about such a killing “of a citizen of another
country on its territory, “especially if it is something
to do with Great Britain “could have been given by only one person. “That person is the president of “the Russian Federation,
Vladimir Putin,” end quote. Litvinenko’s confidence
in knowing his own killer would lead the Guardian to
title an article about the case, “Alexander Litvinenko: The Man
Who Solved His Own Murder”. – [Shane] Yeah, it’s
pretty nuts that, you know, the poison is taking effect. He sort of has this inevitable
demise coming his way and he’s got a few weeks to just sorta solve his own death, that’s nuts. – Also, I mean, at that point
you know you’re gonna die. Might as well just say
everything you want. What are they gonna do, kill you again? You’re gonna die so you might as well just get everything out there. I guess you would have to be
worried about your family. – Yeah. – Yeah, I guess that would
be a thing to think about. – Real bummer. – [Ryan] The second theory
is that Litvinenko’s death could have been in the
interest of those in the UK who wanted to avoid being
extradited to Russia. Lugovoy even suggested
that Boris Berezovsky was involved in Litvinenko’s death while denying his own culpability. Others have speculated that Berezovsky could’ve been responsible for the murder as a means of sullying Putin’s image. The inquiry report acknowledges that some accused Berezovsky of ordering Litvinenko’s death out of fear that Litvinenko could
potentially blackmail him. The report also concedes
that Livinenko had, at times, spoken about,
quote, “Taking some form “of action against Mr.
Berezovsky,” end quote. Though the report also notes that it doesn’t appear he ever
took any of these actions. The report says, quotes,
“It was not unusual “for Mr. Litvinenko to
propose courses of action “in conversation with
friends and associates “that never subsequently came to anything. “Mr. Litvinenko and Mr.
Berezovsky remained friends “until the end of Mr. Litvinenko’s life. “There was no blackmail, and therefore “no motive for Mr. Berezovsky to have “Mr. Litvinenko killed,” end quote. In addition, the report notes that it was Lugovoy who actively
canvassed the idea that Berezovsky was behind Litvinenko’s death. It’s a lot of logical
leaps, or illogical leaps, I should say, to make for
this theory to be correct. – It would be a rough life to know that all your friends could
kill you at any moment. – Yeah, it’d be even surprising
if you didn’t see it coming. – Yeah. – Some people see it coming, though, and there’s nothing they can do about it. – That’s true. – Nothing they can do about it. – Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. I don’t like this bit, Ryan. – What bit are you talking about? – (chuckling) Nothing, let’s continue. – [Ryan] The third theory ties into the suggestion made by Izvestia,
a Russian newspaper, that Litvinenko could have
killed himself if he was suffering from a terminal
illness of some kind. It said, quote, “If he knew he was dying, “he may have taken poison
and signed whatever papers “his allies brought to him,” end quote. Lugovoy’s lawyer also
asked that the inquest into Litvinenko’s death consider, quote, “Death by misadventure
and suicide,” end quote. However, the inquiry report
explains how Marina Litvinenko, Alexander Litvinenko’s
widow, provided evidence that Litvinenko was active around
the time of his poisoning, not suffering from depression. She noted that as long as
she had known her husband, she had never known him to
consider killing himself. Friends supported Marina’s
views on this matter. The report also notes that it seems as though Litvinenko had no access to Polonium 210 before he was poisoned. – Well, of course he didn’t. Who does have that? – Apparently these two guys, apparently. – You don’t go down to the corner shop, “Oh, you can get me some
Twizzlers and some Polonium 210.” – Yeah, apparently these
two guys had access to it, so much that it was fuckin’ falling out of their jacket pockets. – Because they were given it by– – Putin? (shushing) Oh, this seems like a good time. If you’re watching this, Putin, you know, I’m just reporting, you
know, what’s already been reported here so you’re really just killing the messenger if you kill me. – You got bigger fish to fry. – If you’re concerned about us two, your list must not be that impressive. These two guys that he sent out to kill, even this high-ranking ex-Russian agent, they don’t seem like the sharpest
tools in the shed either. – Couple of Keystone cops. – He sent Paul Blart after
him so, you know what, maybe it doesn’t matter. He’d probably send out, like,
his nephew or something. – Yeah. – His 10-year-old nephew,
I don’t know if he has one. – Craig. – Craig, he’d send Craig to come kill us and I think hopefully I’d
be able to handle Craig. So who poisoned Litvinenko
with the deadly Polonium that would eventually lead to his demise, and at whose orders? While it’s widely accepted
that Lugovoy and Kovtun are the only people that
could’ve poisoned Litvinenko, we don’t have a smoking gun on Putin ordering Litvinenko’s assassination, despite the UK inquiry’s conclusion that it was probably at Putin’s orders. However, it’s still important to note that theory number one is
the only one that those outside of Putin’s
government and its allies assign genuine credibility. Nevertheless, Putin has dismissed the allegations against Lugovoy and Kovtun in spite of pressure on Russia to extradite the two men to the UK. Lugovoy and Kovtun remain at large. So, in a sense, the
strange teatime events that took place on November 1st,
2006, and the mysterious death of Alexander Litvinenko remain Unsolved. (eerie instrumental music) – I guess I know where I’m
putting my money on this one. – Officially, this one
seems to be unsolved and really, the only reason why it is is because Russia’s like, “Didn’t do it.” Nah, nah. – I feel like this is equivalent to John Wayne Gacy being like, “Wasn’t me.” And everyone else being like, “Yeah, well, “yeah, crawl space and everything.” “Well, yeah, but I say it wasn’t
me so guess it’s unsolved.” – “Do you look under
your crawlspace often?” “Didn’t think so, I don’t look under mine. “I didn’t know those bodies were there.” (eerie instrumental music)

100 thoughts on “The Covert Poisoning of an Ex-Russian Spy”

  1. I’m gonna buy me some twizzlers and polonium 210.
    I hope who ever thinks that won’t be consuming those twizzlers themselves.

  2. Ryan: We want to speak the native language of the ghosts. CASAS BIEN
    Also Ryan: Speaks English to Putin

  3. Anyone else think maybe they put it in his tea due to the fact that he betrayed Russia and settled in England (the stereotypical tea drinkers in Europe)

  4. Why would the British secret service try to poison so many people for these two men? They're not THAT important for that type of sacrifice by a government.
    Not that I put sacrifices past governments anymore

  5. Shane's joke about the "ooze-long" tea and his reference to the Keystone Cops (which are from the silent movie era, btw) just confirms in my mind that Shane is either from the past, or he's secretly youthful forever and he's actually 120 years old! Which I'm totally okay with 🙂

  6. Sucks cuz if this would have happend in the USA they have a reverse antibiotic for Po. They say its like going from being on ur death bed to being just fine.

  7. Actually asking whether the British government would put so many of it's citizens at risk rofl? The Elite that run all our governments don't see us as people but see us as cattle! The American, Israeli and British governments were the perpetrators of 911! And thus forced the cattle to back an illegal war against the Middle East countries! It's the cattle that actually do the fighting for these psychopaths in charge!

  8. "You've never wanted to just see… The universe just…"
    "… Implode?"
    Is such raw dialogue, I love it

  9. Glad you mentioned how the doctor didn’t find the source of poisoning for 3 weeks. Medical care in the UK is nowhere near as good as the USA. It’s an overstretched service. Welcome to the NHS

  10. I’m with you on that Shane in my head I was imagining a test tube glowing green like😂 I just lost it 😂😂

  11. omg the whooshing sound effect lined up perfectly with my ovens bell… I was making chicken strips 😅😅

  12. Hi guys, please make an episode about Daphne Caruana Galizia, she was a Maltese journalist and political activist who were assassinated in 2017, in car bomb attack. At that time she was investigating Panama Papers which was exposing Russian and Azerbaijani governments' heavy corruption and passport sale with Maltese government

  13. Well litvinyenko deserved that after accusing putin with being a gay pedophile and working with mi6 betraying the nation and leaking national secrets

  14. The last installment of the Panic Room Trilogy: Panic Crypt, in which Shane fakes his death in order to live out his days in a fortified crypt watching dog videos and no one is any the wiser.

  15. Working in the radiation field I'd have to imagine they had in on a swab or on a wipe. Something they could keep in their pocket and keep discreet but also put in his tea quickly.

  16. have you guys ever heard of the russian testing about the gas they created to keep soilders awake for long periods of time. It was a study on their own people. and some horrific things happened. not really a murder mystery. but, I wonder what you guys would say about it/

  17. he was defiantly poisoned by polonium, it is a radioactive substance that doesn't give of much deadly radiation unless it is digested which is why everyone else nearby was fine, therefore he must have consumed it.

  18. Ricky: You never know.
    Shane: That's true.
    Ricky: You never know…
    Shane: That's what I'm saying… I- I don't like this bit, Ryan!
    Ryan: What bit?

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