A friend of poisoned former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko
accused Moscow on Thursday of exploiting the dead man's ex-wife
in a KGB-style campaign to blacken his name.
Alexander Goldfarb was responding to an interview in which
Litvinenko's first wife, Natalia, described how he left her
and their two young children, taking all the family's savings
and even raiding her purse"down to the last kopeck".
The damaging account "clearly resembles a classic disinformation
campaign of the old KGB", Goldfarb said in a telephone
"They explore her grudges against him, against his second
wife...They're manipulating her in a very sophisticated way."
His comments were the latest shot in a media battle being waged
between supporters and detractors of Litvinenko, the former
KGB agent who died in London four months ago after being poisoned
by radioactive polonium.
Both sides appear to have stepped up their campaigns in the
past two weeks, filling a vacuum created by the absence of new
information on the case from British investigators.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), considering whether to
bring charges on the basis of a police report it received on
January 31, said it asked Scotland Yard several weeks ago to
provide some "further information".
A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said police were liaising with
both the CPS and Russian authorities.
Litvinenko, who in exile had become a fierce Kremlin critic,
issued a deathbed statement in which he accused President Vladimir
Putin of responsibility for his murder -- a claim Moscow has
dismissed as ridiculous but which has threatened to cast a Cold
War shadow over relations with Britain.
The dead man's friend and patron, dissident businessman Boris
Berezovsky, said this week: "I don't think that Putin gave
the order to kill him by poison polonium, but I'm sure that
Putin is behind it and (there is) no chance without Putin to
obtain polonium and organise this plot."
While Berezovsky has stayed largely silent over the case, his
influence in the PR battle has been felt. It was his favoured
communications agency, Bell Pottinger, that distributed the
photograph of a dying Litvinenko, gaunt and hooked up to medical
tubes, that has been endlessly reproduced in the media.
Meanwhile one of two Russian businessmen widely portrayed in
the British media as prime suspects in the case told the New
York Times last week Litvinenko had exposed him to polonium,
not the other way round.
Amid the claims and counter-claims, the disclosures by Litvinenko's
ex-wife Natalia and their children Sasha and Sonia, in an interview
with Izvestia newspaper, stood out for their highly personal
"He was absent minded. He could leave a loaded pistol
on top of the piano...Once little Sasha found it. We were sitting
in the room and in comes Sasha with the pistol: 'Daddy, hands
up!'" Natalia recalled. "Things like that used to
Litvinenko was portrayed as consumed by a "thirst for
money and power", ending up as a sad, lonely figure in
his London exile and venting his obsessive hostility towards
Putin in long telephone conversations with Sasha, now 22.
Sonia, who visited him in London a year before his death, said
he had money problems and was constantly running around at Berezovsky's
beck and call.
Goldfarb, who heads a New York-based civil liberties foundation
set up by Berezovsky, said the interview reminded him of the
KGB's campaign in the 1970s to attack dissident writer Alexander
Solzhenitsyn through his embittered ex-wife.
"You can see the imprint of the old KGB not only in the
plot to poison Litvinenko but also in the cover-up and disinformation
campaign behind it," he said.