(BBC) – The murder of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 in the UK was “probably” approved by President Vladimir Putin, an inquiry has found.
Mr Putin is likely to have signed off the poisoning of Mr Litvinenko with polonium-210 in part due to personal “antagonism” between the pair, it said.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the murder was a “blatant and unacceptable” breach of international law.
But the Russian Foreign Ministry said the public inquiry was “politicised”.
It said: “We regret that the purely criminal case was politicised and overshadowed the general atmosphere of bilateral relations.”
The long-awaited report into Mr Litvinenko’s death found that two Russian men – Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun – deliberately poisoned the 43-year-old in London in 2006 by putting the radioactive substance polonium-210 into his drink at a hotel.
Sir Robert Owen, the public inquiry chairman, said he was “sure” Mr Litvinenko’s murder had been carried out by the two men and that they were probably acting under the direction of Moscow’s FSB intelligence service, and approved by the organisation’s chief, Nikolai Patrushev, as well as the Russian president.
He said Mr Litvinenko’s work for British intelligence agencies, his criticism of the FSB and Mr Putin, and his association with other Russian dissidents were possible motives for his killing.
‘SEND A MESSAGE’
There was also “undoubtedly a personal dimension to the antagonism” between Mr Putin and Mr Litvinenko, he said.
The use of polonium-210 was “at the very least a strong indicator of state involvement” as it had to be made in a nuclear reactor, the report said.
The inquiry heard evidence that Mr Litvinenko may have been consigned to a slow death from radiation to “send a message”.
Giving a statement to the House of Commons, Mrs May said British Prime Minister David Cameron would raise the findings with Russian President, Mr Putin, at “the next available opportunity”.
She said the UK would impose asset freezes on Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun and that international arrest warrants for the pair remained in place. They both deny killing Mr Litvinenko.
Both men are wanted in the UK for questioning, but Russia has refused to extradite them.
For years Moscow rejected allegations of high-level involvement in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
The fact President Putin himself is now associated with this assassination has not changed anything.
Taking their lead from Robert Owen’s use of the words “high probability”, the second tier of the Russian establishment, mainly Kremlin-loyalist MPs, are dismissing the entire report as a politically-based fabrication.
Russians on social media are making fun of its conclusions by using the hashtag “PutinProbablyApproved” in Russian – that is #ПутинВозможноОдобрил – to include all manner of crimes.
One Russian MP, Nikolai Kovalev, himself an ex-FSB boss, pointed out relations between Moscow and London would not be harmed by the report as there was no room for making them any worse.