Post by Oleg Smirnov
that the mainstream media in the UK use fiction or misrepresentation to
shape mind and sentiment of their domestic audience in a proper way.
Also in that "Russia and the West: Putin Takes Control" program on the
National Geographic Channel, the poisonings of Alexander Litvinenko and
Victor Yushchenko were mentioned, and that "poisoning in Russia goes back
centuries." Undoubtedly not all that info is "fiction or
A Short History of Russian Poisoning
The possible poisoning of Russian journalist Vladimir Kara-Mursa has a
On May 23, 1938, a Soviet intelligence agent named Pavel Sudoplatov
assassinated the Ukrainian nationalist leader Yevhen Konovalets in
Rotterdam. The order for the murder had come personally from Josef Stalin.
The method was none too subtle: Sudoplatov had given his victim a box of
chocolates, containing a bomb.
Subtler forms of liquidation had been in the works for some time in Soviet
Russia. In 1921—the year Sudoplatov was recruited at age 14 into the Cheka,
the Soviet security organization formed by Vladimir Lenin—the Soviets
established their first laboratory for the study and testing of poisons.
They made rapid progress. From 1928–35 secret laboratories were overseen by
the accomplished Soviet biochemist Grigory Mairanovsky. The author of a 1940
classified doctoral thesis on the interaction of mustard gas with human
skin, Mairanovsky was tasked to develop tasteless, colorless, odorless, and
lethal poisons that could be placed in the food and drink of enemies of the
state. Mairanovsky and his colleagues tested their concoctions on political
prisoners of various sizes and ages. He was so successful that by the 1940s
he had become a key member of Pavel Sudoplatov’s team for political
assassinations. In summer 1947, again on the order of Stalin, Mairanovsky
killed the American spy for the Soviets Isaiah Oggins by injecting him in
one of his laboratories with a lethal dose of the poison curare.
Poisoning has a long history. Socrates was forced to take hemlock as his
death sentence. For a period of time in ancient Persia, different poisons
were the weapons of choice for rivals bent on doing away with this or that
Persian king. British science writer John Emsley provides a helpful history
of poison in his riveting book The Elements of Murder. In 19th-century
France, arsenic came to be known as poudre de succession—”inheritance
powder,” a method by which wily women would rid themselves of cumbersome
husbands. Thallium, according to Emsley, was Saddam Hussein’s poison of
choice for political opponents.
Russians have always seemed to have a special fondness for poisoning. In
1453, Dmitry Shemyaka, the Grand Duke of Moscow, was poisoned with arsenic
in a chicken dinner, his cook having been bribed by Muscovite agents of a
rival. In 1610, Russian general Mikhail Skopin-Shuisky was poisoned on
orders of the Tsar; in this instance, his wife enlisted to poison his food.
In 1936, Abkhaz Communist leader Nestor Lakoba was poisoned by orders of
Lavrentiy Beria, head of the NKVD, the Soviet security organization
responsible for extrajudicial killings and the gulag system. Lakoba was
poisoned during a dinner in Tbilisi with Beria, his death announced as a
During the Cold War, the tradition continued. Most spectacular and famous is
the case of Georgi Markov, an anti-communist Bulgarian writer who in exile
had worked for Radio Free Europe and the BBC. On the morning of September 7,
1978—the birthday of Bulgarian dictator Todor Zhivkov—Markov made his way
across Waterloo Bridge in London to wait for a bus. An assassin, working for
the Bulgarian secret police and aided by the KGB, poked Markov with the tip
of his umbrella. By evening, Markov was checked into a hospital, feeling
unwell with a high fever. Four days later he was dead. Forensic pathologists
discovered a pellet filled with traces of ricin in the back thigh of Markov’s
right leg. According to former Russian intelligence officer Boris Volodarsky
in his book, The KGB’s Poison Factory, Markov had likely been surveilled
before the assassination by another Bulgarian BBC broadcaster named Vladimir
Simeonov. Twenty days after Markov’s murder—and two days after being
questioned by Scotland Yard—the 30-year-old Simeonov was himself found dead
under mysterious circumstances. In the kitchen of his flat, reports
Volodarsky, “two glasses were found in the sink without any fingerprints.
Traces of a bottle were identified on the table.”
A decade earlier, Alexander Dubcek, the reform communist leader of the
ill-fated Prague Spring, was thought in Czech anti-Communist circles to have
been poisoned by the KGB, in this instance by radioactive isotopes sneaked
into his soup during a brief captivity in Moscow. Dubcek fell ill later in
Bratislava, had to cancel a speech, and was hospitalized due to “a cold.” He
As in the case of Pavel Sudoplatov’s detonating chocolates in Rotterdam,
surreptitious poisoning gets trumped at times in Russian political
assassinations by a somewhat heavier hand. In 1940, at his compound outside
Mexico City, Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky was fatally wounded by an
ice-axe-wielding assassin (whose murder was ordered by Stalin and carried
out under the direction of Sudoplatov). And there was no poison involved in
the murder this winter of Kremlin critic and former Deputy Prime Minister
Boris Nemtsov. Shortly before midnight on February 27, walking after dinner
with his Ukrainian girlfriend, Anna Durytska, across the Bolshoy
Moskvoretsky Bridge close to Red Square, Nemtsov had four shots pumped into
his back at close range from an assassin’s handgun.
Which brings us to the case at hand. At this writing, Nemtsov’s associate,
journalist and civil society activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, lies ill in a
Moscow hospital, according to reports stricken by kidney failure, double
pneumonia, and pancreatitis. The 33-year-old Kara-Murza fell suddenly ill
and collapsed in his Moscow office on May 26. The day before, the
organization for which Kara-Murza currently works (Open Russia, which was
created in September 2014 by former political prisoner and Russian
businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky) had released a documentary about Ramzan
Kadyrov, the ruthless ruler of Chechnya and a close ally of Russian
President Vladimir Putin.
No one can say for sure at this point whether Kara-Murza has been poisoned.
What we do know is that Russia has a ghastly tradition of poisoning
political dissidents. We also know that very recent history has been
alarming. Although he survived—his face disfigured—pro-Western Ukrainian
Presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin at a
dinner in Kiev during an election campaign in September 2004. Former FSB man
and Putin opponent Alexander Litvinenko died of polonium ingested in a
London hotel bar in 2006. Russian businessman Alexander Perepilichny, a key
witness in a Moscow money laundering case, expired outside his Surrey home
in London in 2012, apparently having been killed by poison from the highly
toxic Gelsemium plant (grown remote areas of China). Then there’s the case
of journalist and Putin critic Anna Politkovskaya. She was shot to death by
assassins in the elevator to her apartment on October 7, 2006. But in
September 2004, Politkovskaya had become violently ill and lost
consciousness after drinking tea on a Russian flight.
And we can be certain of one thing: Kara-Murza was a Kremlin target.
Let’s hope he’s transported out of Russia to a hospital in the West very
soon. If it turns out Kara-Murza wasn’t poisoned, leaving him in Moscow is
to tempt fate.