The European Court of Human Rights has just judged Russia “responsible” for the assassination of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned in 2006 in the United Kingdom. This case was the subject of a terrifying documentary released in 2008.
New twist in a business already 15 years old. But the symbolic charge is powerful. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday, September 21, Russia “responsible” of the assassination of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with polonium 210 in 2006 in the United Kingdom.
The Court considers “that there is a strong presumption” that the perpetrators of the poisoning, identified by a British investigation, “acted as agents of the Russian state”. Moscow would not have provided an alternative explanation “satisfactory and convincing”, “nor refuted the findings of the British public inquiry”. European magistrates finally point out that the Russian authorities have “no effective internal investigation that would have made it possible to identify and try those responsible for the murder”.
Found guilty of violations of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to life, Russia was ordered to pay € 100,000 for moral damage to the widow of Alexander Litvinenko. Unsurprisingly, Russia rejected these findings: “we are not ready to recognize such a decision” commented Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman …
A deadly cup of tea
November 1, 2006. Russian opponent and former KGB (now FSB) agent Alexandre Litvinenko, drinks a cup of tea at the bar of a luxury London hotel. A drink that will seal his fate. He is the victim of poisoning with Polonium 210, a radioactive material. At the end of an atrocious ordeal of 22 days of suffering, he died of the consequences of his poisoning. Litvinenko, a refugee in Great Britain in 2000 after accusing the Russian government of trying to silence critics of the regime.
However, the British authorities refused for eight years the opening of a public inquiry, on the pretext of preserving “international relations”; some documents from the investigation were even classified “sensitive” for national security.
In July 2014, the British authorities’ turnaround, who then announced the opening of a public inquiry, even though the government refused to say whether this opening of an investigation had anything to do with the very tense situation with the Russia and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine at the time …
A chilling and essential documentary
The Litvinenko affair, as it has been called, had already in 2008 been the subject of a documentary signed by Russian director Andrei Nekrasov, who was notably a former assistant to the great filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky.
A documentary, presented in extremis at the Cannes Film Festival that year, which delivered an absolutely terrifying vision of his country, between corruption, assassinations on order, the politics of terror vis-à-vis opponents, interference of power Russian in countries like Ukraine …
Here is the trailer:
We had met the director in 2008 during an interview which is, to say the least, more relevant than ever.
We therefore suggest that you read or reread this interview below, to perhaps encourage you to see the documentary. Litvinenko: poisoning of a former KGB agent.
AlloCiné: When did you meet A. Litvinenko, and when did you get the idea of making this documentary?
Andrei Nekrasov : I met him at the end of 2002. Not really to make a film about him directly, but in which he would be one of the main characters. I wanted to make a film about the bankruptcy of democracy, that is to say the beginning of the situation we are currently experiencing in Russia. Alexander Litvinenko rose to prominence in Russia in 1998, when he organized a press conference with six of his FSB comrades, accusing his superiors of corruption and attempted assassination on his person. The worst part is that these accusations were not even denied by the FSB.
He also showed me a letter in which the FSB replies to his accusations, saying that it was a joke; that one of his superiors had indeed declared that he wished to see him dead, but that it was not serious. Already for me with this case, it was the first sign that something was wrong. It must also be said that in the 1990s, even with the many difficulties of daily life, we had the shared feeling that we were on the path to democracy and reforms.
After this trial, we had this attack in Moscow in 1999 which shocked us all. Alexander accused the FSB of being involved in this attack, using agents infiltrated into terrorist circles. This event coincided with the start of the Second Chechen War; Putin’s war. So for my part, I wanted to testify, to sound the alarm bells.
The question I am often asked is: “Aren’t you a little too polite to a guy who is still sleazy and comes from the FSB?” What I see is that it took a hell of a lot of guts to organize this press conference. Moreover, he quickly made very powerful enemies as a result of this great unpacking. It was very difficult for me to contact him in Russia, because of the threats he was subjected to and the prison sentence that had been pronounced against him. When he went into exile in Britain, it was much easier to get in touch with Sacha. (Editor’s note: the affectionate diminutive that Litvinenko’s entourage gave him).
We have the feeling in your film that the power in place is practicing a form of state terrorism. Terrorism in the sense of a policy of terror. Do you agree with this idea?
Andrei Nekrasov: Absolutely, yes. If we talk about it like that in French, then we have to qualify it like that in Russia. Unfortunately in my country, power has a sacred dimension. Even among some who claim to be part of the intelligentsia or who claim to be very critical of power, this idea is accepted. The notion of power with us means above all power literally, without fear of being counterbalanced.
What I note anyway and which is shown in my film is that most Russians have serious doubts about the identity of the terrorists responsible for the Moscow attacks; that the FSB immediately attributed to the Chechen industry. You should still know that at that time, Putin was the head of the FSB’s services. No one went to ask him questions or investigate him. Russian society also thinks that in the end, the 2nd Chechen War was a real success and was not a bad thing. Basically, in the logic of the power in place, the hundreds of people sacrificed in these attacks fully legitimize this war.
In a way, is this practice of power that you speak of also linked to the fact that the current rulers have never admitted the dismantling of the Soviet empire? We remember, for example, in 1991 the failed putsch against Yeltsin, orchestrated by the conservatives and the KGB. What explains their interventions in countries like Ukraine for example?
Andrei Nekrasov : You are quite right. This is true at the level of the people and at the level of power, in a sort of consensus. Some people regret this time, for example because according to them the USSR had a civilizing role in Central Asia. But when we also see the result in these countries, it’s worse than before. If we analyze in the West, who are these leaders today? They are ultra capitalists, involved in very big transnational business.
If we refer to our leaders of the Soviet era, even if some were very cynical and we can condemn communism, there was sympathy on the left among them, and sometimes real sincerity. Both in their emotions but also in their convictions. Today, our leaders remember the good memories of the USSR when they do not care! Once their dubious financial interests have been consolidated, I can assure you that they very quickly abandon all these ideas of Soviet empire, Socialist International, etc.
We see in your films demonstrations and arrests of very harshly repressed opponents. There is also an upsurge in the assassinations of journalists and death threats. In a way, would the ruling power fear for its survival?
Andrei Nekrasov : Absoutely. For me, there are two elements which explain that one is able to kill as for Anna Politkovskaya (Editor’s note: gunned down in the lobby of her building in 2006 and friend of Litvinenko) and Sacha: fear and hatred. In Russia, it is hatred and fear of foreigners, the internal enemy as it was hammered in Soviet times. Extremists even talk about it as those who steal our jobs. Such acts or ideas inspire no respect!
There is also a blue fear for events like the Orange Revolution, experienced as a trauma by our leaders. If he had not been assassinated, I think Litvinenko could potentially have played a political role; in any case he had this ambition.
With us, stereotypes and racist clichés still die hard. Take the case of Berezovski: in the eyes of extremists, he typically embodied the scapegoat: Jewish, rich, living in London … Even someone like Kasparov with his origins, would have almost no chance of being elected president!
He also gave up in December 2007 to stand for the presidential elections, believing in any case that the ballot would be rigged, shortly after having served a sentence of 4 days in prison …
Andrei Nekrasov : (thoughtful) Indeed … I think Kasparov was also arrested because he represented a potential threat taken very seriously by the government of the day. Just as Alexander Litvinenko also represented a real threat if he had been able to realize his political ambitions: Russian, ex-member of the KGB with a network of contacts …
You give the floor to the philosopher André Glucksmann in your film. He speaks of the crime of indifference of German society towards Nazi Germany. Can we speak of a crime of indifference on the part of Russian society towards Vladimir Putin, but also of Europe towards what is happening in Russia?
Andrei Nekrasov : Yes. You know, I think most countries are way too accommodating with today’s Russia. Despite its many human rights violations, Russia is part of the capitalist system. You see, when Jacques Chirac raised Putin to the dignity of Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, well I believe that one can very well buy oil or gas from Russia and not be obliged to make a gesture of such complacency with the power in place …
Finally, the most terrifying thing about this Litvinenko affair is to note that in the current political system in Russia, we can order a murder with complete impunity, that we have less scruples than ever in getting rid of the embarrassers. or opponents.
Interview in Paris in January 2008 by Olivier Pallaruelo