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Putin and Litvinenko Add to ...

Russian President Vladimir Putin was indignant that anyone could imagine his ordering the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko. When reached in Finland after Mr. Litvinenko's death on Thursday, Mr. Putin said the British medical documents did not show "that it was a result of violence, this is not a violent death, so there is no ground for speculation of this kind."

It is hard to imagine a more violent death. Mr. Litvinenko's organs failed and his immune system disintegrated. He retained just enough strength to dictate a letter Tuesday blaming Mr. Putin for having engineered his poisoning with what now appears to have been the radioactive element polonium-210. (As well as in his body, traces of the element were found in Mr. Litvinenko's home and in two restaurants he visited before falling ill.) His "ground for speculation" was that he had harshly criticized Mr. Putin, had sought sanctuary in Britain in 2000, had heard he was on a Russian hit list and had been digging around in such areas as the murder of Russian investigative reporter Anna Polit-kovskaya, another critic of Mr. Putin.

He may, of course, have been mistaken. It has been six years since he fled to Britain. It is possible that someone else poisoned him. It is even possible that someone else managed to get access to a significant supply of polonium-210, though that would take some doing. But Mr. Putin, who must have asked himself such questions when he was head of the KGB, should ask himself, who benefits? Who would want a harsh critic (himself ex-KGB) of the Putin regime put out of the way? Who would have the power to give someone access to polonium-210? Who is known for putting critical press in his country out of business?

Speculation, yes. "No ground"? Mr. Putin protests too much.

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