Prime Russian spy suspect accused of poisoning dies of Covid

Litvinenko Ally: "Poisoning" of Russian spy a political Putin stunt

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Kovtun died in a Moscow hospital, Russian news agency TASS said. His death will increase speculation that Kovtun – who had served in the secret services – suffered health damage administering the poison.

Lugovoy, 55, said: “Today we have the sad news that my close and loyal friend Dmitry Kovtun passed away suddenly as a result of a serious illness linked to a coronavirus infection. This is an irreplaceable and difficult loss for us.

“From the bottom of my heart I express my deepest condolences to all of Dima’s (Dmitry’s) relatives and friends. Sleep well, dear friend. We will never forget you.”

The pair always denied involvement in poisoning Litvinenko, but Britain believed the assassination had been ordered by Vladimir Putin or his circle. A trail of the radioactive agent led back to Moscow and to Germany – where Kovtun was based at the time – on plane seats.

Both men were subject to sanctions but Russia refused to extradite them to face justice in the UK.

Kovtun was far more low profile than Lugovoy, who enjoys a prominent political career. In 2017 when sanctions were imposed on him by the US, Kovtun said he “lives in Russia and is not going to leave”.

Former spy Litvinenko died aged 43 in London after drinking green tea laced with polonium-210 at a Mayfair hotel.

He died in intensive care in November 2006, more than three weeks after the poisoning.

Three days before he died an infamous photo of him was released, showing him lying in bed without hair. A letter written on his deathbed, in which he blamed Putin for his murder, was read out by friend Alex Goldfarb.

Addressing Putin it read: “You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.”

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