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Spy Poisoning Linked To Russian Journo Murders?

Oct. 27 2008, Published 7:07 a.m. ET

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LINKED? Litvinenko, Klebnikov The assassination of a former KGB spy by radiation poisoning may have come as a shock to CNN viewers, but the circumstances sound awfully familiar to investigative reporter Richard Behar. The former Time and Fortune writer is the head of Project Klebnikov, a group dedicated to exposing the truth behind the 2004 killing of Forbes Russia editor Paul Klebnikov. Though Alexander Litvinenko, who died on November 23, was not himself a journalist, Behar says he's hopeful that the case will shed light on the murder of Klebnikov and the other Russian journalists killed in the past five years. "When things like this happen, it stirs the pot," he says. "Things can come out of the wall—new leads, new sources."

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Could the two cases really be one and the same? Behar doesn't discount that possibility. "One of the theories we've been operating under is that there may well be commonalities in the murders of the dozen reporters who've been killed since Russian president Vladimir Putin came to power."

Putin is slated to step down next year, but Behar has no expectation that things will suddenly improve for the Russian press. "I think some things are going to change before then, in terms of how Washington deals with Russia. The Klebnikov case is beginning to get more attention in Congress and the Senate.

"You have to keep in mind that from the perspective of most Russians, poll after poll, they're satisfied with Putin, and they'd rather have strong government than a free press. So they're not exactly sure what they're missing."

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