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U.K. Orders New Inquiry Into Ex-KGB Spy Litvinenko's Death

Britain has ordered a public inquiry into the death in 2006 of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko by radiation poisoning.

In a statement to Parliament today, Home Secretary Theresa May said the independent Home Office inquiry will be headed by Robert Owen, a senior judge who is the coroner in the inquest into Litvinenko's death. She said the inquiry would, among other things, identify "where responsibility for the death lies."

In a statement, Marina Litvinenko, Litvinenko's widow, said she was "relieved and delighted with this decision." She and Owen both long have sought an inquiry into the former spy's death.

Litvinenko, a critic of Russian leader Vladimir Putin who also worked for Britain's MI6 intelligence agency for several years, died in 2006 after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210 at a London hotel. In a statement dictated before he died, he accused Putin of involvement in his poisoning. The Kremlin has denied any role. Two Russians have been identified as suspects in the death, but they too have denied involvement and remain in Russia.

The decision comes as relations between Britain and Russia are strained following the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Western governments say the plane was shot down over a region controlled by pro-Russia separatists, using arms and training supplied by the Russian military. But the BBC quoted government officials as saying that the timing of today's announcement was a coincidence.

Britain previously had declined an investigation into the death, and last year May acknowledged that "international relations have been a factor" in the decision. But Britain's High Court ruled this year that the government must reconsider its decision.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.
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