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Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2006, 14:55 GMT
Denials fail to solve Moscow mystery
By James Rodgers
BBC News, Moscow

Alexander Litvinenko
Mr Litvinenko accused President Putin over his murder
The death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko has not been nearly as extensively reported in Russia as it has in Britain.

The photographs of Mr Litvinenko - wasted and near death in his hospital bed - have not been widely reproduced in the Russian press.

The Kremlin has consistently rejected any suggestions of Russian government or secret service involvement in Mr Litvinenko's death.

"Any death is always a tragedy," President Putin's deputy spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the BBC.

"Now it's up to UK law enforcement agencies to investigate what happened."

'Absurd' claims

Mr Peskov bluntly dismissed any idea that Moscow might have been to blame.

"We've already said that this is completely absurd," he said.

Konstantin Kosachev, of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee, offered condolences to those who knew Mr Litvinenko, but added: "I don't see any reason for our special services to carry out such an operation."

Instead, he suggested it was enemies of Russia, whom he declined to name, who would benefit from Mr Litvinenko's death.

Memorial to Anna Politkovskaya
The ex-spy was said to be probing the death of Anna Politkovskaya

That is really how reaction to the case of Mr Litvinenko has been divided here.

Kremlin supporters have essentially said that Mr Litvinenko was not enough of a threat to Mr Putin's regime to have merited being the target of such an apparently sophisticated plot.

That is not the way Mr Litvinenko's friends and family see it.

At the time he was taken ill, Mr Litvinenko was said to be investigating the death of the Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya.

She was an implacable critic of President Putin's administration.

Her articles had catalogued human rights abuses in the war-torn southern Russian region of Chechnya.

She was gunned down last month in the entrance to her home.

Apartment explosions

No-one has yet been arrested or charged in connection with her killing.

Mr Litvinenko had publicly blamed the Kremlin for Politkovskaya's death.

He had also written a book accusing the FSB, the Russian secret service in which he once served as an officer, of blowing up a series of apartment blocks in Russia in 1999.

Some 300 people were killed in the explosions.

The Russian authorities blamed Chechen militants for the explosions.

Alexander Litvinenko
Doctors struggled to trace the source of Mr Litvinenko's illness

In response, Russia launched a major military offensive against the breakaway region.

Little can be said with certainty about the death of Alexander Litvinenko.

Medical explanations which were once confidently reported have since been dismissed.

Amid claim, counter-claim and denial, the truth is so far impossible to discern.

Some security experts in Moscow point to the fact that Mr Litvinenko's time in the FSB was spent fighting corruption and other criminal activity.

In Russia in the 1990s, that was a dangerous profession - and one where it would have been easy to make deadly enemies.

London associates

In London, Mr Litvinenko, associated with Boris Berezovsky, a Russian tycoon and former Kremlin insider turned Kremlin critic, and Akhmed Zakayev, a Chechen separatist.

Russia wants both men extradited to face criminal charges.

Both Mr Berezovsky and Mr Zakayev have denied any wrongdoing.

Britain has refused to extradite them. Their continuing residence in London infuriates Moscow.

Scotland Yard have yet to launch a murder inquiry.

But if Mr Litvinenko's death was murder, the many sides of his life may make his killer difficult to find whether the answers to the case are here in Moscow, or elsewhere.

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