Why Putin likes to use ‘viciously theatrical’ poison to kill enemies and silence potential critics
POISON is a weapon that may feel most at home in the Middle Ages – yet it appears to be the method of choice for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is fighting for his life after allegedly drinking suspected poisonous tea, the latest in a long line of Kremlin critics who have mysteriously fallen ill.
Putin wished him luck, perhaps sending what experts describe as a “sly wink” to the rest of the world.
It appears the regime knows that the Russian state’s connection to the assassination attempt may never be proven.
The Kremlin-related poisonings have left opponents disfigured, in medically induced comas, and worse yet, slow and painful deaths.
And the method seems to differ each time, with poison-tipped umbrellas, chemicals coated on doorknobs, or just toxins added to the victims’ food and drink.
At least eight prominent critics of Putin and his regime are believed to have been poisoned after falling ill under mysterious circumstances.
Experts said Putin’s apparent fetish for such a medieval weapon was due to two reasons: his “easy denial” and his “vicious theatricality.”
Mark Galeotti, senior associate researcher at the Royal United Services Institute, told Foreign Policy: “One of the great virtues of politically-minded murderer poison is its ability to combine easy denial with vicious theatricality.
“Even though the murderer denies any role, perhaps with a sly wink, the victim dies a gruesome and often long death.
“A message in a poison bottle.”
Victims can spend weeks in the hospital fighting for their lives, and even if they survive, they will have received an unforgettable message: don’t mess with Putin.
Navalny was filmed screaming as he fell ill on a flight to Moscow from Tomsk after he was seen drinking tea in the airport cafe.
Russian doctors insisted that the illness was due to alcohol or hypoglycemia.
But his allies said they believed he had been poisoned and remained on a ventilator in a hospital in Omsk.
Authorities have refused to allow him to be airlifted to Germany for treatment, which his spokesperson says is a ploy to allow the poison to pass through his system.
He was one of Putin’s foremost critics – being described as the man Vlad “fears the most” by the Wall Street Journal in 2012.
Navalny’s mysterious “illness” follows the poisoning of MI6 double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on March 3, 2018.
The duo fought for their lives after the nerve agent Novichok was smeared on the doorknob of their house.
The attack also poisoned the hero police officer, Sergeant Nick Bailey, and locals Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess – the mother of three dying from exposure to the toxin.
Putin’s alleged victims of poison
EIGHT enemies of Vladimir Putin have been suspected of poisoning since 2004.
Anna Politkovskaya – Poisoned after drinking tea offered to her by an Aeroflot flight attendant in September 2004. She was then shot dead in Moscow in October 2006.
Viktor Yushchenko – Remained disfigured after consuming food containing chemical TCDD also in September 2004. Managed to recover and win Ukrainian presidency on a pro-western platform – serving from 2005 to 2010
Alexander Litvinenko – Died after being poisoned with radioactive polonium in London in November 2006. Blamed Putin for the attack on his deathbed.
Vladimir Kara-Mourza – Fallen ill after being suspected of being poisoned on an Aeroflot plane in May 2015. He was then allegedly poisoned again in February 2017.
Piotr verzilov – Hospitalized after falling ill in Moscow after attending legal proceedings against anti-Putin group Pussy Riot on September 12, 2018.
Sergei Skripal – Found in critical condition on a bench in Salisbury after being suspected of being poisoned by the Russian-developed nerve agent, Novchok, March 4, 2018.
Yulia Skripal – Fell ill with her father the same day. The two spent weeks fighting for their lives in hospital in a cheeky attack that shocked the UK.
Alexei Navalny – He remained screaming and violently ill after drinking poisoned tea before boarding a flight to Tomsk on August 20, 2020.
John Sipher, who spent 28 years working with the CIA, said: “The Kremlin has a long and horrific history of intimidation and murder of those it sees as a threat to the state.
“Journalists, opposition figures, noisy Russians abroad and others should always be aware that the Kremlin does not regard them as free citizens.”
Poison appears to have been Russia’s weapon of choice since the Cold War.
Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was injected with a poisoned umbrella in a KGB-linked assassination in 1978.
The Soviet Union is notorious for carrying out research on untraceable poisons that were tested on Gulag prisoners.
Gennadi V. Gudkov, a former KGB colonel, said the poison is often used as being easy and anyone can do it – for example by throwing a cup of tea at an airport cafe.
He told the New York Times: “It’s easy and easy to cover things up.
Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, is perhaps the most high-profile case of poisoning linked to the Russian state.
The infamous photo of him lying in hospital looking gravely ill is a reminder of the alleged reach of the Kremlin.
He is believed to have received a lethal dose of radioactive polonium-210 and suffered a slow three-week death from radiation sickness in November 2006.
Scotland Yard said they believed the Russian state was linked to his murder, and witnesses said he was killed to “set an example.”
In his closing statement, he said: “You may succeed in silencing a man, but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.
“May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and her people.”
Russia has denied any involvement in his death and said he was “mentally unstable” – apparently calling him unimportant to Putin.
Russian opposition activist Piotr Verzilov, spokesperson for the anti-Putin group Pussy Riot, was also the victim of suspected poisoning on September 12, 2018.
German doctors said it was “highly likely” that he was poisoned while investigating the deaths of three Russian journalists in Africa.
Speaking about Navalny this week, he said: “I was in exactly the same condition.”
Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was also poisoned during a robbery in 2004.
She survived but was belatedly shot in a suspected murder at her home in 2006.
Meanwhile, Putin’s top critic Vladimir Kara-Murza believes he has been poisoned twice by the Russian state.
In 2015, he suffered a week-long coma and believes he ingested the toxin while on flight duty aboard an Aeroflot aircraft.
And he then fell ill again in 2017, once again placed in a coma to save his life.
His doctors warned him if he is hit a third time, he will die.
Ukrainian opposition politician Viktor Yushchenko was disfigured when he was poisoned while running for president on a pro-Western platform in 2004.
He is believed to have been poisoned with TCDD dioxin during a dinner with Ukrainian security officials.
He had to undergo dozens of surgeries in stride – and his face was scarred and pockmarked with the disease.
Russia has been accused of harboring three suspects linked to the poisoning – and it believes the assassination was ordered by Moscow.
The Putin regime has always denied or rejected any allegations that it is behind a campaign of poisonings and assassinations against its critics.
Other critics have also been killed under mysterious circumstances, such as being shot or found strangled – but the poison appears to be reserved for Putin’s greatest enemies.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he was “deeply concerned” over the poisoning of Navalny, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Tugendhat suggested that Putin’s “mafia state” was to blame.
The US Embassy in Russia said the latest suspected poisoning “represents a serious moment for Russia” if the allegation is true.