Sipping coffee at his home in the quiet suburbs of London, Oleg Gordievsky speaks of his friendship with Alexander Litvinenko. He tells me that Litvinenko firmly believed the current Russian government would one day fail and that he would return home to help rebuild a counterintelligence service free of corruption. Gordievsky, himself a KGB defector, says he was instrumental in convincing the British government to offer Litvinenko political asylum from Russia.
Passion and conviction apparently came easy to Litvinenko. He seemed utterly fearless. Gordievsky suggests to me that this might have been his friend's downfall. Even Litvinenko, who knew how powerful his enemies could be, did not believe a hit would be attempted against him as long as he stayed in London.
A great deal of attention is being paid to the meeting Litvinenko had over tea with two Russians at a London hotel the day he became ill. If this proves to be where Litvinenko was poisoned, Gordievsky theorizes the killer or killers knew his habits well.
Gordievsky told me his friend was a man without vices. He didn't smoke nor did he drink. He always tried to meet with people he was unsure of in upscale and busy public places. Gordievsky believes the only way such a potent dose of radioactive poison could be administered was to slip it into Litvinenko's tea during a casual meeting. I emphasize that this is just a theory -- one of hundreds. And it comes from just one figure in a tightly-knit Russian expatriate community that is more than just a little shaken right now.
There are also theories that Litvinenko was collecting information for personal gain. The British newspaper, the Observer, printed a series of interviews with a Russian academic. The article suggests Litvinenko may have turned to blackmail, selling damaging information involving powerful Russian oil interests. But neither his friends nor his family believe that the man who was so set against corruption and took such great personal risks to expose it would ever compromise
It's hard to pin down just how many Russian ex-pats have taken up residence in London, but there seems to be a lot. Prominent members of the community offer guesses that there could be anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000 in the United Kingdom, but they don't know for sure. Most keep a low profile, content to find a safe place to live and a job that provides a decent living. A few however, like Alexander Litvinenko, don't disappear into the crowd and live a simple 9-to-5 life.
Litvinenko's friends say he could not rest or stay quiet as long as long as he believed he could bring about change to a Russian government that he viewed as rife with corruption and violence. They say that in life, Litvinenko was a star among the Russian expatriates who want to see an end to the government of Vladimir Putin. In death, they say, his star seems to be shining brighter than ever.