As It Happens

U.K. no safe haven, Litvinenko widow says after Russian ex-spy falls ill

The widow of a former Russian spy murdered in London 12 years ago says the British government has failed to protect another man in her husband's position.
Marina Litvinenko, the widow of Alexander Litvinenko, says Britain is not a safe haven for Russian defectors seeking protection. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

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The widow of a former Russian spy murdered in London 12 years ago says the British government has once again failed to protect a Russian national seeking safety within its borders. 

Sergei Skripal, once a colonel in Russia's GRU military intelligence service, and his daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on Sunday on a bench outside a shopping centre in southern England.

Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter were exposed to what police said was an unknown substance in the English city of Salisbury. Both are still critically ill in intensive care.

It's an eerily familiar story to Marina Litvinenko.

Her husband Alexander (Sasha) Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, was killed in 2006 in London. It took 10 years for a British government inquiry to rule he was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 by Russian intelligence operatives.

Litvinenko spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the parallels between the two cases. Here is part of that conversation.

What went through your mind when you heard what had happened to Sergei Skripal?

I was really shocked because I believed after what we achieved after public inquiry, it [would] never happen again in U.K. 

But, unfortunately, yesterday, I realize it was not enough.

Of course, it is quite early to say what has really happened ... but what happened to these people is just very sad.

In this Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006, picture, Sergei Skripal speaks to his lawyer from behind bars, seen on a screen of a monitor outside a courtroom in Moscow. (Misha Japaridze/Associated Press)

What is similar in regards ... to your husband Sasha and what happened to Sergei and his daughter?

I think the biggest similarity of these two cases is these two men who [were] seeking for security and for protection in U.K. have not been saved.

Unfortunately, my husband has died. And I hope Sergei will recover.

When people are looking for this safe place in England, it doesn't look really safe.

The poison that killed your husband, polonium-210, as far as we understand it, was put into something he drank, possibly his tea, and it was done in a restaurant. It seems that Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia had been in a restaurant, maybe a couple of different venues, before they were found on a bench slumped over.

What does that tell you? What parallels do you see between those situations?

When we are talking about Sergei's case, it's just two days since we have all this news. And we still don't have any official statement or anything from police investigation. 

When we are talking about my husband's case, it took us almost 10 years to bring this case for justice. 

Women holding a poster of deceased former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko light candles in his honour in Moscow on Nov. 22, 2008. (Alexey Sazonov/AFP/Getty Images)

We do know Mr. Skripal seemed to have been afraid for his life. He had been living in United Kingdom after he had served part of his sentence in Russia for spying, for espionage, and he had been given refuge in the U.K. We also know that his relatives have died in recent years. His wife and his son both died under mysterious circumstances.

What do you make of that? What does that say to you?

He [was] supposed to be protected. And he, I believe, was sure he would be protected. 

And if something happened to him, it's a very big responsibility of state who gives this protection to Sergei, but was not able to provide it.

It took 10 years and a public inquiry before it was established that your husband had been assassinated and killed by Russia's spy service. How important is Mr. Skripal and his daughter's survival to this investigation?

I did spend 10 years to achieve this result. What it means for Sergei and for his daughter is they don't need to do this.

If you remember, in my case, we were fighting and asking for two and a half weeks in hospital to be checking for poisoning. And nobody [cared] about this.

It will be much faster because public is ready.

Because there's no skepticism now.


Litvinenko, right, and her son Anatoly attend a press conference at their lawyer's office after receiving the results of the inquiry into the death Alexander. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

But how important is their testimony, hearing what Mr. Skripal and his daughter might be able to tell investigators? How critical is that to actually being able to find out what happened?

If they're able to speak, it will be very important.

Because in Sasha's case, he was able to talk. Before he died, he gave a lot of interviews, even [though] it was very difficult.

But because he did it, it helped to investigate his case. Without his interviews, it probably would be not possible.

— With files from Reuters