Poisoned Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died Thursday in an intensive-care unit of a London hospital but doctors said they were unable to determine the cause of his death.
Litvinenko, a fierce critic of the Russian government, suffered heart failure and was heavily sedated as medical staff struggled to pinpoint what had made the 43-year-old critically ill, London’s University College Hospital said in a statement. “The matter is being investigated as an unexplained death,” London’s Metropolitan police said in a statement.
The former spy said he believed he had been poisoned Nov. 1, while investigating the slaying of another Kremlin detractor – investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Litvinenko’s hair fell out, his throat became swollen and his immune and nervous systems were severely damaged, he said.
Doctors said tests virtually ruled out poisoning by thallium and radiation – toxins once considered possible culprits behind the poisoning.
Just hours before he lost consciousness, Litvinenko said in an interview with the Times newspaper of London he had been silenced. The interview was published in Friday’s edition of the paper, copies of which were available late Thursday.
“I want to survive, just to show them,” the Times quoted Litvinenko saying.
“The bastards got me but they won’t get everybody.”
Dr. Geoff Bellingan, director of critical care at University College Hospital, said extensive tests failed to uncover what caused Litvinenko to fall ill.
Family friend Alex Goldfarb said Litvinenko’s wife, Marina, son Anatoli and the former agent’s father stayed at his bedside as his condition deteriorated.
Andrei Nekrasov, a friend and filmmaker, said Litvinenko’s skin had turned yellow, a possible effect of liver failure.
Nekrasov told the Times before his death, Litvinenko had warned his friend not to return to Russia.
“Very sadly, he turned out to be the next victim, attacked in the perceived safety of central London,” Nekrasov was quoted saying.
Friends and dissidents allege Litvinenko’s poisoning was carried out at the behest of the Russian government. Litvinenko sought asylum in Britain in 2000 and since then had been a relentless critic of the Kremlin and the Russian security services.
On Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, issued its strongest denial yet that it was involved in any assassination attempt.
“Litvinenko is not the kind of person for whose sake we would spoil bilateral relations,” SVR spokesman Sergei Ivanov said, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.