Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in 2006 with the radioactive poison Polonium 210. The media coverage assassination has dragged on unceremoniously throughout the years after allegations that this was a move authorised by the Russian government under Vladimir Putin.
Those allegations have been given a new impetus by the publication of the final report from the official inquiry into his death, stating that President Putin “probably” authorised the killing, as did the head of the FSB, Russia’s equivalent to MI6. The report itself has been researched and compiled over the course of this last year by Sir Robert Owen. Although this is itself inherently interesting and could also take up a whole article just writing about, there is no doubt that the more pressing issue is the damage this has caused to the UK-Russian relationship.
Not that this was a particularly happy relationship, as it stood before the release of the report. The report found that former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi was most likely to have killed Litvinenko. The UK government has been demanding the extradition of Lugovoi from Russia to be tried for the murder since 2007. The Russian government have continued to refuse any requests, and Lugovoi is now a member of the Russian legislature, granting him immunity from any extradition.
What readers should ask themselves is this; what has the Litvinenko report really brought to light? The findings of the report still are admitted suspicions; Lugovoi has not been labelled a definite assassin or a murderer, only the most likely culprit (albeit one who trailed the radioactivity of the murder weapon from hotels to cafes and aeroplanes). What this does serve to do is continue to erode the UK-Russian relationship. Not only in official reports, such as that researched by Sir Robert Owen, can this be seen; several reputable newspapers also report on Russia with coverage that has not truly moved on since the end of the Cold War.
The Times has reported in Monday 25th’s edition ran the headline; “Russia’s spying on Britain is back to Cold War level”. The article itself contains accusations that Russia is looking to infiltrate Naval bases such as Clyde, where the controversial nuclear submarine Trident is based, and Devonport and looking to get a hold of “military hardware, science and technology” whilst having already successfully infiltrated London businesses.
Now either this report is true, in which case Putin has covert plans that would not be at all out of place at the height of the cold war, or this report is exaggerating the facts. The tell-tale signs are that the article is not even taken seriously in the context of its own paper; the small three hundred word article is hidden away in an insignificant corner on page six, beaten to the headlines by reports of two beached whales in Skegness and the BBC begging for pensioners to relieve their free TV-license liberties. This is not exclusive to The Times, but this widespread kind of media representation of Russia is doing nothing but harm UK-Russian relations.
Russia has however brought on a lot of the criticism by its own actions. For example, one need only look as far as the events in the Crimea, Ukraine or even the Russian threats to use nuclear weapons should there be an intervention in the Crimea. The list goes on and on. Although these are deplorable acts there is a tendency to lazy reporting of actions, as seen in the above The Times article. To be clear; the overarching point to be taken from this article is that it is the need for there to be an ever present “bogeyman” which essentially means the UK-Russian relationship is severely damaged and will remain almost irreparable.
This is not to discredit the reports of the Litvinenko report; the findings that Lugovoi most likely carried out the assassination cannot credibly be disputed with any hard evidence available, and it is also likely that there are indeed covert Russian plans to at least monitor the UK’s actions. Nonetheless, this can be said of many other countries; the internet threat of hackers is arguably the most significant threat.
It is also worth pointing out that that London is one of the most multi-cultural capital in the world; if recent history tells us anything about this subject it is that many different countries carry out covert operations to different extents and it is certainly not exclusive to Russia. By focusing almost exclusively on the Russian threat we are achieving two things.
Firstly, almost a kind of paranoid consensus about possible Russian intentions. Secondly, with this kind of consensus influencing the politicians of the future who are in education today, a potential rebuilding of the UK-Russian relations looks bleak.