This book was published last summer, well before the Trump/Clinton debates and October surprises with their Russian issues and Putin references. It traces the death of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 and highlights the kleptocratic mess that has become post-Soviet Russia. Along the way the reader gets insights into subjects as diverse as the discovery of polonium, Soviet intelligence services, Ukraine politics, and Russian vacation destinations. It all fits together in a very interesting piece of investigative journalism.
Many may at least be familiar with pictures of Litvinenko laying in a hospital bed after being poisoned in 2006 and taking 22 days to die. The murder weapon was polonium, an element so radioactive that the two Russians assigned the murder could be traced through London to what seats they’d used in clubs and airlines down to which hand towels they used in hotel bathrooms. Some artifacts were so hot that they are now in protective storage for public safety.
Litvinenko was in intelligence, a pro-democracy good guy who tried to warn a newly promoted Putin about growing corruption within the intelligence service. He was ignored, harassed, arrested, and finally forced to seek asylum in Britain. He was finally murdered after an earlier attempt using a weapon that could only be produced by a government-sized entity.
Harding does a great job of tracing the crime, even detailing people’s steps recorded on security cameras. He also describes his own experiences and harassment while in Russia.
Harding also, as seen in the book’s subtitle, documents this as just one act in a continuing push by Putin to make Russia as dominant on the world stage as the USSR while still treating the country as a piggy bank.
It’s a compelling read with excellent reporting and a broad perspective. Fun for crime readers and political junkies alike.