It Was Putin, on British Soil, Using his Poison Factory

Boris Berezovsky (Photo by Warrick Page/Getty Images)

Over at BuzzFeed in this adaptation from her new book, From Russia with Blood: The Kremlin’s Ruthless Assassination Program and Vladimir Putin’s Secret War on the West, Heidi Blake reports on Scotland Yard’s attempts to maintain the safety of Boris Berezovsky, a Russian oligarch living in Britain. From a poison factory, to a multitude of hired assassins, it seems Vladimir Putin will stop at nothing to silence his most vocal critics.

Hadn’t Berezovsky himself been warned, years before, of a radioactive plot to kill him on British soil? Wasn’t he Putin’s true nemesis? The oligarch was busy telling everyone that the assassins had really been sent to eliminate him but must have failed and seized the chance to poison Litvinenko instead. So when the protection officer showed up in his office with the news that he was at the top of the Kremlin’s UK hit list, he was thrilled. Finally the state was endorsing what he had been saying all along: Vladimir Putin was trying to kill him.

On more than one occasion, he called the protection officer to announce that he had just met someone he had been warned might be part of a plot to kill him. And he flatly refused to stop antagonizing the Kremlin. He kept traveling to Belarus and Georgia to stoke unrest right on Putin’s doorstep—even after being told that Scotland Yard could do nothing to protect him when he was overseas. And every time he gave another interview in which he took a potshot at Putin, fresh intelligence would flood in from Britain’s listening posts in Moscow indicating that new plans were being laid to silence him. It was almost, the protection officer thought, as if you could feel the chill wind blowing in from the east.

But the oligarch seemed to thrive on it. “I am what I am,” he would say. “I am Boris Berezovsky, and I crave conflict.” It was as if he had a strange sort of destructive energy, the officer thought, that made him want to run right into danger.

Berezovsky wasn’t ordinarily one to follow instructions, but he was relishing his leading role at the center of this live operation against an enemy agent, so he did as he was told when Atlangeriev called. Then he phoned Down Street and told his secretaries to be on high alert for the assassin’s arrival and to tell anyone who called that he was busy. After that, all that remained was to wait. He passed an enjoyable few days on board Thunder B, sunning himself on deck, scuba diving, and zooming around on his Jet Ski while the British authorities tracked his assassin around London.

Scotland Yard’s surveillance operatives found themselves on an unexpected sightseeing tour. They had hoped Atlangeriev might lead them to the heart of FSB activity in the capital, or possibly to a warehouse crammed with radiological weapons, but ever since his call to Berezovsky, the hit man had acted for all the world like a tourist showing a kid around the city. As he and his young companion traipsed through Trafalgar Square and past Buckingham Palace, the hazardous materials officers crept behind them swabbing and scanning for traces of toxins or radiation—but everything came up clean.

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