Tallinn, Estonia (AP) — Attacks range from the outlandish — poisoning by drinking tea tainted with polonium or touching a deadly nerve agent — to the more mundane attacks of point-blank shooting. Some drown fatally from an open window.
Over the years, Kremlin political critics, renegade spies, and investigative journalists have been killed or attacked in a variety of ways.
However, none of them are known to have died in an air accident. But on Wednesday A private plane carrying a mercenary commander who made a short rebellion in Russia fell into a field of tens of thousands of feet after disintegrating.
Attempts to assassinate enemies of President Vladimir Putin have been common during the nearly quarter-century of his existence in power. Those close to the victims and the few survivors have blamed the Russian authorities, but the Kremlin has routinely denied involvement — as it did on Friday when it said it was a “total lie” that it had anything to do with the plane crash.
There have also been reports of high-profile Russian executives dying under mysterious circumstances, including by falling out of windows, although it is sometimes difficult to say whether they were deliberate killings or suicides.
Some of the most notable cases of murder or attempted murder documented:
In August 2020, opposition leader Alexei Navalny He feels sick On a flight from Siberia to Moscow. The plane landed in Omsk, where Navalny was hospitalized in a coma. Two days later, he was flown to Berlin, where he recovered.
His allies immediately said he had been poisoned, but Russian officials denied this. Labs in Germany, France and Sweden confirmed that Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent known as Novichok, which he said was applied to his underwear. Navalny returned to Russia and this month was convicted of extremism and sentenced to 19 years in prison, his third conviction in two years on charges he says are politically motivated.
In 2018, Piotr Verzilov, founder of the protest group Pussy Riot, became seriously ill and was flown to Berlin, where doctors said poisoning was “highly likely”. He eventually recovered. Earlier that year, Verzilov embarrassed the Kremlin when he ran onto the stadium during the soccer World Cup final in Moscow with three other activists to protest police brutality. His allies said he could have been targeted because of his activism.
A prominent opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza He survived what is believed to be attempts to poison him in 2015 and 2017. He almost died of kidney failure in the first place and poisoning is suspected but the cause has not been determined. He was hospitalized for a similar illness in 2017 and placed in a medically induced coma. His wife said that the doctors confirmed that he was poisoned. Kara Murza survived, and his lawyer says the police refused to investigate. This year he was convicted of treason and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The most prominent killing of a political opponent in recent years was the killing Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov, who was deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin, was a popular politician and a vocal critic of Putin. On a cold February night in 2015, he was shot dead by assailants on a bridge adjacent to the Kremlin while he was walking with his girlfriend in an incident that shocked the country. Five men from the Russian region of Chechnya were convicted, and the gunman was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, but Nemtsov’s allies said their involvement was an attempt to shift blame from the government.
Former intelligence agents
In 2006, Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, a former agent of the KGB and its successor agency, the FSB, fell violently ill in London after drinking tea contaminated with radioactive polonium-210, and died three weeks later. He was investigating the shooting death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, as well as the KGB’s alleged links to organized crime. Before his death, Litvinenko told reporters that the FSB still ran a toxicology laboratory dating back to the Soviet era.
a British investigation found and that Russian agents killed Litvinenko, possibly with Putin’s approval, but the Kremlin has denied any involvement.
Another former Russian intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, was poisoned in Britain in 2018. He and his adult daughter Yulia fell ill in Salisbury and spent weeks in a critical condition. They survived, but the attack later claimed the life of a British woman and left a man and a police officer in serious condition.
Authorities said both were poisoned with a military-grade Novichok nerve agent. Britain blamed Russian intelligence, but Moscow denied any role. Putin called Skripal, a double agent for Britain during his espionage career, to… “Despicable” does not interest the Kremlin Because he was tried in Russia and exchanged in the 2010 spy exchange.
Many journalists critical of the authorities in Russia have been killed or suffered mysterious deaths, which in some cases their colleagues blamed on someone in the political hierarchy. In other cases, the authorities’ reluctance to investigate raised suspicions.
Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist for Novaya Gazeta whose death Litvinenko was investigating, He was shot and killed In the elevator of your apartment building in Moscow on October 7, 2006 – Putin’s birthday. She has gained international fame for her reporting on human rights abuses in Chechnya. The gunman, who is from Chechnya, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Four other Chechens were sentenced to shorter prison terms for their involvement in the murder.
Yuri Shkochikhin, another correspondent for Novaya Gazeta, died of a sudden and violent illness in 2003. Shkochikhin had been investigating corrupt business deals and the possible role of the Russian security services in the 1999 apartment-house bombings that were blamed on Chechen rebels. His colleagues insisted he had been poisoned and accused the authorities of deliberately obstructing the investigation.
Yevgeny Prigozhin and his assistants
Wednesday’s crash, which presumably killed Yevgeny Prigozhin and his top aides at his private military company Wagner, comes two months to the day he launched an armed insurrection that Putin described as a “stab in the back” and “betrayal”. Although he did not criticize Putin, he criticized the Russian military leadership and questioned the motives for going to war in Ukraine.
On Thursday a A preliminary assessment of US intelligence It found that the accident that killed all 10 people on board was deliberately caused by an explosion, according to US and Western officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment. One said the blast was in line with Putin’s “long history of trying to silence his critics”.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied allegations that the Kremlin was behind the incident. “Of course, in the West these speculations are presented from a certain angle, and it is all a complete lie,” he told reporters on Friday.
In his first public comment on the incident, Putin seemed to hint that there was no hardship between him and Prigozhin. But former Kremlin speechwriter turned political analyst Abbas Galliamov said: “Putin has proven that if you fail to obey him without question, he will dispose of you mercilessly, like an enemy, even if you are officially a patriot.”
Associated Press writer Amer Madhani in Washington contributed.