To Murder a Dissident

TrepashkinA former FSB official reveals past plots against Litvinenko.

A former FSB agent, Mikhail Trepashkin, has revealed that a former agency colleague attempted three times to recruit him for a “state-sponsored operation” to murder Aleksandr Litvinenko. Trepashkin was released on November 30th from a prison sentence widely considered politically-motivated. Speaking to the British Sunday Times, he asserted that the first attempt took place in September 2002, when he was approached by Victor, one of Litvinenko’s former colleagues.

“Victor told me that a very serious group had been set up to sort out all matters linked to Litvinenko and Berezovsky once and for all,” said Trepashkin. “He wanted me to help him track down a relative of Litvinenko who lived in Moscow. I suspected he was planning something nasty to put Litvinenko under pressure,” he added.

Two months later, Victor came back once again. This time, he told Trepashkin that the FSB was planning to “silence” both Litvinenko and Yuriy Felshtinsky, a history scholar residing in the United States. Felshtinsky had helped Litvinenko write a controversial book about alleged FSB involvement in series of apartment bombings in Moscow titled “The FSB is Blowing Russia Up.”

“He told me that a special group had been dispatched to Boston, where Felshtinsky was based, to carry out surveillance,” Trepashkin explained. “I was left with the clear impression that things were getting serious and that the FSB was preparing something against both men. I warned Litvinenko about it and he took it very seriously.”

The third meeting took place at the start of 2003. This time, he told Trepashkin that his contacts in the FSB wanted him to travel to London and meet Litvinenko in a hotel. “He said that all I had to do was get together with him so that other agents could get him in their sights and start 24-hour surveillance,” Trepashkin recalled.

The former FSB agent added that as soon as he heard about Litvinenko’s poisoning in 2006, “everything Victor said to me finally fell into place… From the first moment, I had no doubt the FSB was behind his killing and I realized that Viktor had not been bluffing.” Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive polonium in November 2006, and he accused President Vladimir Putin of involvement on his deathbed.

“This could not have been carried out without the help of state structures,” Trepashkin said. “Litvinenko was killed out of revenge and to send the message that no one is safe, no matter where you flee, if you throw dirt at the FSB.”

On November 30th, Trepashkin was freed after four years behind bars. For two of the years, his friends and family were barred from visiting him. Seven months were spent in solitary confinement.

The former agent was one of the participants in a now legendary 1998 press-conference, where a group of FSB officers charged their superiors with involvement in organized crime and targeted assassinations. Litvinenko was one of the leaders of the conference.

In 2002, Trepashkin, a lawyer by training, spoke out for Litvinenko. He was also deeply involved in the investigation of a series of apartment bombings that shook Moscow in 1999. The bombings were used in part to justify the second Chechen War, and have never been fully investigated.

Trepashkin was arrested on October 22nd, 2003, on the eve of an investigative trial into the bombings. He was planning to present his findings, which may have implicated Russian security forces. The basis for his arrest was a handgun found in his automobile, and on May 19th, 2004, he was convicted of illegally storing a firearm, as well as divulging state secrets. He was sentenced to four years in a prison colony.

“I was often threatened and there were times I thought I would not make it out alive, but they didn’t break me. Nor did they manage to silence me. I won’t flee abroad. I see it as my duty to continue speaking out, even if I don’t feel safe.”