Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Videotape Shows Litvinenko Feared Retribution

ReutersLitvinenko, right, repeating many of the same accusations from the tape during a news conference on Dec. 17, 1998.
Late one night in April 1998, three Federal Security Service agents met at a guest house outside Moscow to make an extraordinary video in which they claimed their bosses had ordered them to kill, kidnap and frame prominent Russians.

The tape, the officers said, was a kind of insurance, to be released only if something happened to one of them.

Now one of them, Alexander Litvinenko, is dead, poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope in London last November.

British police on Tuesday charged another former agent, Andrei Lugovoi, in the killing. No motive was stated. Lugovoi denied involvement, saying the charges were politically motivated.

The tape suggests, though, that from the time Litvinenko first blew the whistle on his bosses almost a decade ago, he knew he was a marked man.

It captures the moment when an anguished young agent first stepped out of the shadowy world of the intelligence services and, perhaps, sealed his fate.

"If these people are not stopped, this lawlessness will flood the country," he says on the tape. It would, he said, be worse than in 1937, when Stalin staged a series of purges called the Great Terror.

In the video, Litvinenko and his colleagues sit on couches with journalist Sergei Dorenko, speaking solemnly of their repugnance at the violence and immorality they claim had infected the FSB. More than six months later, Litvinenko repeated many of the same accusations at a news conference -- including that he had been ordered to kill businessman Boris Berezovsky. That news conference, in which Litvinenko appeared with other purported FSB men disguised in masks or dark glasses, was later regarded by critics as a ruse engineered by Berezovsky. But Litvinenko told the same account in the tape that he did not intend to make public.

Dorenko, now a talk-show host on Ekho Moskvy radio, showed a few excerpts of the tape on television in 1998 after Litvinenko's news conference, but the full video has not been broadcast. Dorenko made the tape available to The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal.

In the tape, Litvinenko also contends that he was ordered to beat up or plant a weapon on Mikhail Trepashkin, another former FSB agent who was imprisoned several years later for revealing state secrets. The videotaped claim appears prophetic: Trepashkin, who investigated claims that the FSB was behind a series of apartment building explosions that killed about 300 people in 1999, was arrested in 2003 after police said they found a gun in his car. His lawyers said the weapon was planted. Trepashkin was convicted of disclosing state secrets and is now in prison. Amnesty International has said the charges "appear to have been politically motivated."

Another man in the tape identifies himself as Alexander Gusak, Litvinenko's direct superior, and says there was talk in the FSB of kidnapping Umar Dzhabrailov, a wealthy Chechen businessman based in Moscow.

In the tape, Litvinenko is casually dressed, with a full head of thick hair and an intent manner. He admits he is worried but insists he is not fearful.

"I do understand that a security officer is not supposed to give interviews or appear on television," he said. "But now I realize the time has come. If I were afraid, I wouldn't do what I do now. But I fear for the life of my wife, my child."

Gusak says on the tape that he believes the situation in the agency had become intolerable.

"The reason we have gotten you out of bed," he says to Dorenko, is to describe actions by the agency "that contradict the current law, with the Criminal Code and, we will say it directly, do not meet our moral demands."

Gusak could not immediately be reached for comment.

There is widespread speculation that Litvinenko was killed by foes of the Kremlin to discredit President Vladimir Putin. In the West, suspicion has fallen on the FSB, acting with or without the support of the Kremlin.

Dorenko said he believed Putin, who became FSB director a few months after the tape was made, had a hand in Litvinenko's death.

"Putin surely must have nodded his approval, meaning kind of yes, work on that," Dorenko said. "Of course, he didn't say, 'Kill him with polonium.' He was simply said, the guy had crossed the boundary, the guy had gone too far."

The government has denied any involvement in Litvinenko's death.

Dorenko, who was an anchorman with ORT television -- now Channel One -- until he was fired in 2000, said he did not look into Litvinenko's accusations at the time because of the risk. "Frankly speaking, I was scared to investigate those cases," he said. He also feared for the fate of his sources.

Dorenko stored the tape with friends until the time came for him to follow Gusak's directions.

"If something happens to one of my comrades," Gusak tells the camera, "only then would we want what we have now told you to be made public."