Happier times: Marina with her husband Alexander and son Anatoly, pictured in 2000
‘Putin thinks he can do anything. He thinks he is God to his people. Now, because of the World Cup, he will think it even more.’
Daily Mail | Dec 5, 2010
By Elizabeth Sanderson
Yesterday afternoon, Marina Litvinenko visited Highgate cemetery and laid a bunch of yellow roses on her husband’s grave. It would have been his 48th birthday.
‘I like to take yellow flowers,’ she says, smiling gently.
‘I liked yellow and so he used to buy them for me. I always say to him, “Now I have to bring them to you”.’
To Marina’s mind this does not just mean Lugovoi, but Putin too – or as she puts it: ‘The murderer and his mentor.’
Speaking in depth for the first time about the leaks, and the man she knew and loved as Sasha, Marina says: ‘It’s difficult to find the right word to explain how I feel.
No, that can only be achieved with justice through the courts.
‘But I was pleased for people to know Sasha was right. When he made his statement blaming Putin, everyone said he was very emotional and couldn’t know for sure.
‘Yet all this time we have asked how it could be possible for only one person to do this – to get polonium and bring it into the country. Only the state could do that.
‘Physically, it was Lugovoi who killed Sasha but Putin must have known. People in Russia believe it was a state- sponsored murder. In Russia, ordinary people don’t think they can change anything and the people at the top believe they can do anything they want.
‘Now they believe they can do that outside Russia as well.
‘But it is still shocking that my husband could be killed here in Britain in such a horrible way. By knife or by gun is awful, but Sasha was poisoned with radioactive
material. He had to die that slow, horrible death and be in that pain for days. I still find that unbelievable.
‘Lugovoi, personally, didn’t have a reason to murder Sasha but for Putin there were a few reasons.
‘It wasn’t only because of Sasha’s articles on corruption or because he escaped from Russia to become a British citizen or because of his ongoing investigations, but it was a combination of those things.
‘Sasha carried on doing what he did in a different territory. He was saying to Putin, “You can’t touch me.” It was a message from Putin, ‘‘I can.’’
‘Now that this ambassador says Putin knew, it might not change the situation but it can change the way people look at Russia.’
In further leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, Russia was described as a ‘virtual Mafia state’ by Spain’s national prosecutor, Jose Gonzalez, who has vigorously pursued Russian criminals operating in his country.
Marina says: ‘I know Sasha was working with him. He was helping him before he died.
‘My husband began fighting corruption a long time ago. In the FSB [the former KGB], he got evidence of corruption and put it all down on a detailed chart for Putin, who
was the new director.
‘Putin was very neutral and said thank you very much. Sasha knew he would not do anything about it so he gave his now-famous Press conference in Moscow in 1998.
‘He was nervous. He knew his colleagues would hate it and they did. They asked him how he could have done it but he said, “Because I don’t like being involved in this crime. One day people will hate you.”
‘That was 12 years ago and the things he talked about then are still being talked about now: the Mafia, the FSB, corruption, control. It’s the people who rule Russia who make it like this, like a monster.’
And Marina believes that the country’s successful bid to host the 2018 football World Cup – ahead of rivals including England – will only fuel Putin’s arrogance.
‘He thinks he can do anything and now, because of the World Cup, he will think it even more,’ she says.
‘He really believes he is God to his people and he will think, “Now they will adore me because I have brought this to them.”
‘On the one side, it is good for ordinary Russians to get a top-class tournament where they can watch big games. In England, fans can already always see a good match. But for Russia, this is not just about football, it is political. This is Putin saying, “We have won.”
‘He does not like to be challenged and Sasha challenged him; he is still challenging him now.’
As is Marina, in her own quiet but fearless way.
She and Litvinenko met at a mutual friend’s party when she was 31 and he was 30.
The daughter of factory workers Anatoly and Zinaida, she had grown up in Moscow, where she studied engineering before becoming a choreography teacher.
Litvinenko, from Voronezh in the Caucasus, was a successful colonel in the KGB. Both he and Marina were divorced and Litvinenko had a son and daughter. The following
year, 1994, the couple were married and their son Anatoly was born.
After Litvinenko’s 1998 Press conference when he accused his superiors of plotting the assassination of the oligarch Boris Berezovsky, he spent various spells in prison on trumped-up charges.
But two years later, he escaped to Turkey, joining Marina and Anatoly, who had already fled. The family then arrived in Britain via Italy and Spain and were granted asylum in 2001.
The couple enjoyed life in London, mixing with other Russian exiles such as Berezovsky. The Chechen dissident Akhmed Zakayev was also a close friend.
Anatoly settled well in school and his father, a keen Anglophile, was delighted he was learning English.
However, Marina admits that she knew little of her husband’s work.
The Russians have claimed Litvinenko was a spy, something she vehemently denies.
Nevertheless, intrigue and betrayal were an undeniable part of his life – and death. It is believed Lugovoi slipped the poison into a pot of tea when he and Litvinenko met at
the Millennium Hotel, Mayfair.
It took the authorities more than three weeks to identify the radioactive substance, meaning that Marina and Anatoly had both been significantly exposed and had to be
tested for polonium poisoning.
Marina says: ‘My first concern was for our son. I thought, this is not fair. But he was given the allclear, Sasha’s father was clear and my test was slightly up.
‘They said my chances of getting cancer were two per cent higher than average.
‘But a friend gave me a book by an Israeli scientist who was accidentally exposed to polonium. Tests said he was clear but he died of cancer and, after a few years, so did two of his colleagues.
‘I don’t go to the doctors but I try to listen to my body all the time. It could be a time bomb, who knows?
‘The worst bit was the reaction of other people. No one knew whether to touch you or not, whether they could catch something. It was as though I had become a ghost that
The family home in Muswell Hill, North London, was also sealed off for fear of contamination.
Marina says: ‘Once they realised Sasha had been poisoned they rushed us out of
there in 30 minutes. After that they didn’t know what to do with it.
‘When I went in I had to wear protective clothing. No one had been in there for about 45 days. It was awful. There were insects everywhere. The bananas were black and
covered in flies. It was like something out of a horror film.
‘It took me two years to get it back to normal and rented out. I couldn’t
go back there after that.’