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By Luke Harding

1 November 2006. Alexander Litvinenko is openly poisoned in critical London. Twenty days later he dies, killed from the interior. The poison? Polonium; an extraordinary, deadly and hugely radioactive substance. His crime? He had made a few strong enemies in Russia.

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He called her on this number and told her to take a package holiday to somewhere in Western Europe. Two days later she flew out of Moscow with their son Anatoly. Their destination was Spain’s Costa del Sol. In Tbilisi, Litvinenko had no clear idea what to do next. He grew nervy and restless: instead of staying in his hotel room out of sight he wandered round the town, with its churches and old quarter. At one point the local militia almost arrested him, a suspicious Russian with no clear purpose in the city.

His sympathy for Chechens and their struggle against the centre grew; it would later become a journalistic obsession and a future area of conflict with Putin. During this same period, Litvinenko met and became friendly with a man named Boris Berezovsky. Berezovsky was a mathematician and academic who had gone into business as the Soviet Union collapsed. Like a determined object pushing at a tough membrane, he had penetrated Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle. He published the president’s memoirs and became friends with Yeltsin’s influential daughter Tatyana Yumasheva.

But it was another order from a senior colleague that would provoke a political scandal and Litvinenko’s dismissal from the FSB. Yeltsin had appointed Berezovsky deputy head of the security council. Berezovsky helped to negotiate a peace deal with the Chechen rebels. Hardliners viewed this agreement as treachery – and Berezovsky as its perfidious architect. One day, Litvinenko’s superior Alexander Kamishnikov came up to him. According to Litvinenko, he began by saying: ‘Look, we must be a true successor to the KGB, we must have continuity and you must defend the Motherland, you must discharge your duties properly.

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