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Putin and Polonium Poisoning: the eternal Cold War shadows shining under Europe

Updated: Jun 18, 2022

By Yasmin Silva Nilsson

April 16, 2022


[Photo Credit: BCC News]

November 23, 2006. This was the day when Alexander Litvinenko passed away from plutonium poisoning – more specifically, polonium-210, a rare compound. This Polonium isotope is incredibly difficult to detect since it is so rare in nature. However, Polonium can be manufactured for usage in industrial plants — it helps in preventing the buildup of static electricity. Additionally, though emitting pure alpha particles, which can be stopped by a sheet of paper outside of the body, its danger level highly increases when ingested, causing widespread danger when passed through organs and forming a deadly toxic amount of free radicals (toxic particles that steal energy easily and are highly chemically reactive).

Only in September last year did this crime officially resolve when the European Court of Human Rights found the Kremlin (also known as the headquarters of the Russian government) responsible for Litvinenko’s death, an assassination by radition poisoning. Litvinenko was a former Russian intelligence officer who defected to the West in the past. On his deathbed, Litvinenko himself named Putin as responsible for his poisoning, and of course, the Kremlin refuses any involvement with the case until this day. The Guardian actually spoke about Litvinenko as the “man who solved his own murder”.

This U.K. inquiry said that Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, former KGB bodyguards, performed a poisoning approved by Vladimir Putin by putting the Polonium substance into Litvinenko’s tea. Nearing the ECHR timing, another suspect was named in the poisoning of a father and his daughter in British territory. The victims are Sergei Skripal, a former agent of GRU (Russia’s military intelligence branch) and Yulia, who were both found deceased in Salisbury, Southern England in 2018. The suspect was arrested after retiring, convicted of working for Britain’s M16, and spent several years in a Russian prison before arriving in the U.K.

Aside from the ongoing war, which has been happening at some level for the last few years, this news shows us how European countries currently deal with Cold War heritage. This current situation has led to catastrophic results that involve secrecies within the country with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, and other elements we might never know.


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