Meet Andrei Lugovoi, Putin’s Bloodhound by Stephen Schwartz

The Weekly Standard Blog January 12, 2017

In a decision separate from the U.S. inquiries into Russian political interference during the 2016 presidential contest, Washington announced on Monday, January 9, that five prominent individuals inside Russia would be sanctioned. The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added their names to the roster of Specially Designated Nationals under the 2012 Magnitsky Act. That legislation provides for identification of Russians believed involved in the 2009 death of Moscow lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and other serious human rights violations, barring them from holding financial assets in the U.S. and from visiting American soil.

The quintet of new targets for American legal efforts includes ex-KGB agents Andrei K. Lugovoi and Dmitri V. Kovtun, and close associates. British authorities suspect Lugovoi, a current member of the Russian parliament, played a role in the 2006 fatal poisoning of secret police defector Aleksandr Litvinenko in London. If Lugovoi sets foot in the United Kingdom, officials say he will be detained and tried for murder.

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov jeered at the latest White House action as a symptom of “sanctions mania,” while Lugovoi himself claimed that the U.S. acted out of “spite” in including him under the Magnitsky regulations.

Litvinenko was granted political asylum by Britain in 2000, and shortly before his demise, UK citizenship. He perished horribly after ingesting the radioactive isotope Polonium-210 while drinking green tea at a London hotel in the company of his former KGB colleagues Lugovoi and Kovtun, and another such person, Vyacheslav Sokolenko.

In the Russian parliament, Lugovoi is presently a deputy for the neofascist and expansionist “Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.” The party is headed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an exemplar since the 1990s of the worldwide wave of populist demagogy, and a valued Putin ally.

Lugovoi fits other stereotypical characteristics of Putin’s peers. As reported by the Daily Mail in 2015, the then-48-year old Lugovoi had married a “gorgeous” nightclub dancer, model and television personality, Kseniya, who is 22 years his junior. In details that call to mind the arbitrary habits of the totalitarian 1930s as well as uncomfortable recent parallels in global political life, Kseniya Lugovoi appeared last year in an eight-episode Russian TV series, Not Under Jurisdiction.

That program portrayed the death of Litvinenko as a plot by the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who died in sketchy circumstances in Britain in 2013. Interestingly, Mrs. Lugovoi operates a chain of “rustic” shops in Russia selling exotic blends of tea – the commodity with which her husband purportedly assassinated Litvinenko.

Evidence that Lugovoi murdered Litvinenko was examined by Yuri Felshtinsky, a Russo-American historian who later fashioned Litvinenko’s work into a co-authored book, titled Blowing Up Russia. The book traces the slaying of Litvinenko to his investigation of misdeeds by the post-Communist Russian security services, especially in dealing with unrest among Chechens and other Muslims. In October 2006, six weeks before Litvinenko’s death, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who enjoyed special credibility among the moderate Chechen leadership, was shot to death in her Moscow apartment building. Shortly before her killing, Litvinenko confirmed Politkovskaya’s suspicions about death threats, and encouraged her to vacate Russia and go underground.

Felshtinsky’s indignation at Lugovoi’s apparent political reward for eliminating Litvinenko led the historian and survivor of the Putinite ordeal to compare the death of the defector with a homicide committed more than 75 years in the past by Ramón Mercader, the assassin of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Mercader, a Spanish communist and an agent of the Soviet NKVD, was honored 20 years after murdering Trotsky, and had spent those years in a Mexican prison for the crime. Writes Felshtinsky, “Moscow really did protect Lugovoi — the only other person to be honored in Moscow in this way…was Ramón Mercader.”