Luke Harding writes: The Millennium hotel is an unusual spot for a murder. It overlooks Grosvenor Square, and is practically next door to the heavily guarded US embassy, where, it is rumoured, the CIA has its station on the fourth floor. A statue of Franklin D Roosevelt – wearing a large cape and holding a stick – dominates the north side of the square. In 2011 another statue would appear: that of the late US president Ronald Reagan. An inscription hails Reagan’s contribution to world history and his “determined intervention to end the cold war”. A friendly tribute from Mikhail Gorbachev reads: “With President Reagan, we travelled the world from confrontation to cooperation.”
The quotes would seem mordantly ironic in the light of events that took place just around the corner, and amid Vladimir Putin’s apparent attempt to turn the clock back to 1982, when the former KGB boss Yuri Andropov – the secret policeman’s secret policeman – was in charge of a doomed empire known as the Soviet Union. Next to the inscriptions is a sandy-coloured chunk of masonry. It is a piece of the Berlin Wall, retrieved from the east side. Reagan, the monument says, defeated communism. This was an enduring triumph for the west, democratic values, and for free societies everywhere.
Five hundred metres away is Grosvenor Street. It was here, in mid-October 2006, that two Russian assassins had tried to murder someone, unsuccessfully. The hitmen were Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun. Their target was Alexander Litvinenko, a former officer in Russia’s FSB spy agency. Litvinenko had fled Moscow in 2000. In exile in Britain he had become Putin’s most ebullient and needling critic. He was a writer and journalist. And – from 2003 onwards – a British agent, employed by MI6 as an expert on Russian organised crime. [Continue reading…]