Fighting words here

Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “common criminal dressed up as a Head of State” who ordered the murder of Alexander Litvinenko to stop him exposing him, the inquiry heard.

The former spy was murdered for trying to reveal Putin’s close links to organised crime and a cabal of crime lords who prop up his corrupt regime, it was claimed.

Ben Emmerson QC, representing the Litvinenko family, said the trail behind the “act of unspeakable barbarism” led directly to Putin’s door.

He said Russia was a “Mafia state” where the Kremlin and Russian organised crime syndicates were “indistinguishable”.

Not true of course. It’s always been quite easy to distinguish between the two. Might not make much difference but the distinction is easy enough.

11 thoughts on “Fighting words here”

  1. Could someone shed some light on the accuracy of the claim that the alleged killers put “thousands” at risk through the use of radioactive polonium?

    I’m guessing that this claim is bollocks as the alleged killers are still alive, but it would be good to get some facts.

  2. “Radioactive polonium” is indeed a tautology- line 1 of the Wikipedia entry reveals that there are no stable isotopes.

    As for risk to others, that can be seen here:

    “German police found that his ex-wife’s apartment in Hamburg was contaminated with polonium-210.”

    “Later German police discovered that the passenger seat of the car that picked him up at an airport was contaminated with Polonium-210.”

    And, IIRC, though it’s not in the Wikipedia article, a BA 767 that he flew on was taken out of service for decontamination.

    All that is with the whole thing working according to plan. Had things gone badly others could have been affected. So it’s not unreasonable to think that others were put at risk.

    I do also wonder what might have been the effects had the problem not been diagnosed and Litvinienko then been cremated.

  3. @GlenD, yes it is a tautology – Po has no stable isotopes. And there’s no basis for the ‘thousands at risk’ claim in this case, since it’s only dangerous if ingested or inhaled. Some nuclear weapons developers may have died from ingesting it.

  4. I heard a story in an oilfield bar from somebody who knew the guys who disposed of Litvinienko’s body that a full HAZMAT team got sent in and his body now lies in a disused mineshaft somewhere, wrapped in lead, or something. His point was that his body is still very poisonous.

    I suspect there are some grains of truth in there somewhere, exaggerated as per oilfield bar norms.

  5. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Litvinenko died in November 2006. Po210 has a half-life of 138.4 days, and so all but 300 parts per billion of it are now lead-206. It’s an alpha emitter. This means if you get it in you it’s horrendous, and if you don’t it’s harmless. The normal HAZMAT protections for a nasty infectious disease would be perfectly adequate. People see ‘radiation’ and freak out. If they’d killed him with Cs137 or Co60 the post-mortem radiological hazard would have been vastly greater, but it would also have exposed the assassins. It’s the very nature of Po210 as a pure alpha emitter that makes it so handy for bumping people off.

  6. “I do also wonder what might have been the effects had the problem not been diagnosed ” – i have always wondered why it took so long to diagnose. He was in UCH (London) – there would be some of the worlds cleverest doctors about (and they can very clever indeed). The symptoms must surely be fairly unique, and ( i suppose ) some fairly easy test once you’re barking up the right tree.

    I just find it difficult to imagine that after first level doctor had failed to diagnose and second level doctor had failed to diagnose, then a respected expert had failed to diagnose (and all the time the patient is saying he’s been whacked by the KGB), that they did not start wheeling out the very clever doctors (who might be fascinated anyway by the case of Russian who says he’s been whacked by Putin and who’s dying quickly of something nobody can diagnose.).

    So, in comes one of the very cleverest doctors, a most very respected diagnostician with 40 years experience. Passes through the door and from 4 yards away looks and thinks, “Good God, internal alpha poisoning. Haven’t seen that since the that training film in 1954, when that unfortunate physicist accidentally …. . ”

    Anyway, that was my take on it, how come so long to diagnose.

    Using polonium was of course Putin telling the world not to mess.

  7. As I recall, doctors suspected thallium poisoning, which would have had similar symptoms.

    I’m curious whether the Russians used polonium because they thought it would be undetectable (as Gordievsky has claimed) or because they wanted everyone to know they’d done it (notwithstanding their formal denials for the purpose of diplomatic respectability).

  8. At the time, the dose used was so massive that secondary contamination would have been a significant health risk to others.

    Polonium is so radioactive that it physically migrates in a really creepy way…. it kind of jumps around (at the atomic level)

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