Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB

By Alex Goldfarb with Marina Litvinenko

Goldfarb, A. &. (2007). Death of a dissident: The poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the return of the KGB. New York: Free Press.


This is an amazing tale told by Goldfarb and the widow of Alexander “Sasha” Litvinenko, Marina Litvinenko. Sasha was a KGB operative working to crack down on organized crime. When the Soviet Union (USSR) dissolved, he then ended up working for the FSB (what the KGB became) doing similar work.

He ended up being sent into Chechnya and saw firsthand the destruction wrecked by the Russian army. Sasha started to question what was going on within the FSB. At this time Yeltsin was struggling to hold on to and encourage democracy in Russia and to seek someone to take over as president who would continue the liberal changes and encourage the fledgling democracy.

One thing led to another and Vladimir Putin was suggested as head of the FSB. Putin had been a KGB member for years. Sasha and some others started to investigate corruption within the FSB, but when they brought it to the attention of the top staff, including Putin, they were basically told to forget it or face the consequences. Sasha didn’t stop. He went public with his allegations that he and other FSB officers were ordered to kill Boris Berezovsky (high powered oligarch who was supporting democracy) and Mikhail Trepashkin, and ended up in prison. Later he was able to flee with his wife and son and ended up in London. From there he worked with a group of expatriates to try and open the western worlds eyes to what was going on in Russian politics and what Putin was doing.

A number of things led to the second Chechen war (which like the Iraq war for Bush helped him get into and stay in office as president). One in particular was a series of bombings of Moscow apartments. Sasha and the others were able to find evidence that the FSB themselves was most likely responsible for the bombings. Suddenly, people associated with the investigation into the bombings and those who were activating for peace in Chechnya started to be assassinated. Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya was a journalist at Novaya Gazeta and was assassinated in 2006 (shot while carrying groceries in her apartment elevator). Yuri Petrovich Schekochihin, a Duma member and journalist, was poisoned in 2003. Mikhail Ivanovich Trepashkin was a former FSB officer and lawyer and was arrested in 2003. In May 2006 Amnesty International  reported that Trepashkin was being denied medical treatment. He suffers from asthma and was sent to the hospital for treatment but then forcibly removed by prison wardens. Finally in 2007 USA Today  reported that Trepashkin was finally released from prison in Nizhny Tagil to Yekaterinburg, Russia. Trepashkin also reported that he and others were asked in 2002 to kill Litvinenko and Berezovsky. Trepashkin warned them about the hit squad and upon release from prison, stated that it was the Kremlin that had Litvinenko killed.

Litvinenko was poisoned on November 1 2006 and died November 23rd. At first doctors thought he just had a case of food poisoning. Then they thought it was Thallium poisoning. Actually it was Polonium-210 a radioactive substance that is highly lethal in very, very small doses that killed Litvinenko. This is a substance that only a very small number of places can manufacture. In fact, 97% of the world’s Polonium-210 comes from Russia. The trails all lead to Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun as the ones who brought the Polonium-210 out of Russian and to London to kill Litvinenko. It is possible that there was a third man as well.

This book is quite an eye opener into Russian politics and politics in general. It is also a lesson on why wars are started and why, when groups on both sides want peace, wars continue. Power over media, power over police, control of all secret services, power over regional governance, can all lead down a very dangerous road. The masses of citizens of the world need to start to look at what is going on and Goldfarb’s book provides an amazing inside view of only one time period in one government—but it is a very powerful view.