LONDON (AP) — President Vladimir Putin probably approved a plan by Russia's FSB security service to kill a former agent-turned-Kremlin critic who died after drinking tea laced with radioactive poison, a British judge said Thursday in a strongly worded report that led Moscow to accuse Britain of souring bilateral relations.
Judge Robert Owen, who led a public inquiry into the 2006 killing of Alexander Litvinenko, said he was certain that two Russian men had given Litvinenko tea containing a fatal dose of polonium-210 during a meeting at a London hotel.
He said there was a "strong probability" that Russia's FSB, successor to the Soviet Union's KGB spy agency, directed the killing and that the operation was "probably approved" by Putin, then as now the president of Russia.
On his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Putin of ordering his killing, but this is the first public official statement linking the Russian president to the crime, and it sent a chilling jolt through U.K.-Russia relations.
Moscow has always strongly denied being involved in Litvinenko's death, and Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zhakarova said the Russian government did not consider Owen's conclusions objective or impartial.
"There was one goal from the beginning: slander Russia and slander its officials," Zhakarova told journalists Thursday in Moscow.
She repeated several times that the Litvinenko inquiry was neither public nor transparent, claiming it had turned into a "shadow puppet theater."
Litvinenko, a former FSB agent, fled to Britain in 2000 and became a vocal critic of Russia's security service and of Putin, whom he accused of links to organized crime.
Owen said Litvinenko "was regarded as having betrayed the FSB" with his actions, and said "there were powerful motives for organizations and individuals within the Russian state" to kill him.
Marina Litvinenko, the spy's widow, said she was "very pleased that the words my husband spoke on his deathbed when he accused Mr. Putin have been proved by an English court."
She also called for tougher action, urging British Prime Minister David Cameron to expel Russian intelligence agents operating in Britain and impose economic sanctions and travel bans on Putin and other officials linked to what her lawyer, Ben Emmerson, called "a mini-act of nuclear terrorism on the streets of London."
"It's unthinkable that the prime minister would do nothing in the face of the damning findings," Marina Litvinenko told reporters.