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After resisting a public inquiry into the 2006 death in London of former KGB officer and Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, Britain on Tuesday gave the green signal in the sensitive case that hit the headlines and sparked a major row between the two countries.
Steeped in overtones of a spy thriller, Litvinenko, 43, died after he was poisoned with radioactive polonium while drinking tea in a London hotel with two Russian men, former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, in November 2006.
The incident led to a period of frosty relations between Britain and Russia, with Britain seeking Lugovoi’s extradition. The relations had marginally improved in recent years, but the the public inquiry announcement comes at a time of renewed new tensions, with Prime Minister David Cameron seeking tougher EU sanctions against Russia over the Malaysian Airlines MH17 crash.
Litvinenko’s family suggested at the time of his death that he was working for British intelligence, and that his killing was ordered by Kremlin. He was said to be a critic of Rusian president Vladimir Putin.
His London-based widow, Marina, who had earlier approached courts to force the British government to order a public inquiry, welcomed the public inquiry.