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Diplomatic row as UK accuses Putin over spy's murder

By Hayden Smith

Published 22/01/2016

Alexander Litvinenko in hospital
Alexander Litvinenko in hospital
Vladimir Putin

Britain is embroiled in a furious diplomatic row with Russia after an inquiry concluded that President Vladimir Putin probably authorised the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko.

The Kremlin complained of a "gross provocation" after the official probe found the Russian leader was likely to have signed off the fatal poisoning of the dissident spy with radioactive polonium in London in 2006. It prompted fresh acrimony over an episode that sent relations between the two countries into the deep freeze for more than five years.

The Government summoned the Russian ambassador and announced that the two men who allegedly carried out the killing - Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun - would have their assets frozen.

But the Litvinenko family's barrister warned it would be "craven" if the Prime Minister avoided substantial reprisals due to diplomatic considerations over crises in Syria and Ukraine.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Mr Cameron insisted Britain was "toughening up" its response to Russia. He added: "Do we at some level have to go on having some sort of relationship with them because we need a solution to the Syria crisis? Yes, we do, but we do it with clear eyes and a very cold heart."

The publication of the long-awaited report drew a blistering response from Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko, who branded the inquiry a "whitewash".

Mr Litvinenko died aged 43 three weeks after he drank tea laced with polonium 210 at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair, central London.

The revelation that the father-of-three had been poisoned with a radioactive substance triggered a major security alert.

A £2.2m inquiry into the former KGB agent's death was finally held last year following a long battle by his widow Marina.

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