At least we now know that Alexander Litvinenko, the ex-KGB officer murdered in London, died through somehow ingesting polonium 210, a rare radio-active material. This is not among murder weapons in everyday use, as it has to be produced in highly sophisticated laboratories, of which there are few, and all of them under the control of one state or another. It is of course possible that criminals bought or stole it from one such laboratory.
Everyone concurs that the murder serves only the hierarchy ruling in the Kremlin. A law was passed last June authorising Russian secret services to kill people abroad. In a statement made just before his death, Litvinenko directly accuses President Vladimir Putin himself of responsibility for the murder. Unless the Russians do everything possible to help investigation, the assumption has to be that Putin indeed inspired the killing. So far Putin prevaricates. Bizarrely he has described the murder as a non-violent deed and uttered what used to be the standard Soviet riposte that here is a “political provocation.” Further, the Russians claim that Litvinenko was murdered by his friends as “a pawn” in their games. Which has to be nonsense.
The relationship of Russia and the West now hangs in the air. This is not some lurid incident suitable as background for a thriller; instead it is a serious test of the balance of forces in the world today. Should Putin and the Russians maintain their attitude of indifference and dismissal, their contempt for the West will be unmistakable. Opportunity calls: they may well be prepared to square up to Muslims in the belief that ultimate supremacy over Europe will fall to them. The British authorities so far give every indication of wishing this murder would just go away. Should they maintain this craven attitude and fail to confront Russia, then they will deserve the contempt – and worse – evidently coming to them.