Russian opponent Alexei Navalny is in a coma in a Siberian hospital after suffering what appears to be a attempted murder by poisoning.
He was on a flight to Moscow when his health suddenly deteriorated after drinking a cup of tea, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing. If so, it would be Putin’s new attempt to use a poisonous agent to get rid of an opponent. A process that seems to be the Kremlin’s weapon of choice even if the results sometimes leave much to be desired. Some examples follow.
Former KGB and FSB agent Colonel Alexander Litvinenko, who defected to London, died there in 2006 after drinking tea containing radioactive polonium-210. A British investigation revealed that Russian agents had killed him. He had accused Moscow of being the source of the dioxin poisoning of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko during his 2004 election campaign.
Vladimir Kara-Murza, an associate of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, killed in 2015 while crossing a bridge near the Kremlin, was hospitalized twice with symptoms of poisoning, in 2015 and 2017. doctors confirmed he had been poisoned. He recovered. Russian police refused to investigate the case.
A Russian spy turned double agent for Britain, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia suddenly fell ill in Salisbury in 2018, poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok. They survived after spending weeks in critical condition. Britain blamed two Russian secret agents for the attack.
Pyotr Verzilov, a member of the Russian protest group Pussy Riot, ended up in an intensive care unit after suspected poisoning in 2018 and had to be airlifted to Berlin for treatment. He finally recovered.
Oleg Erovinquine, another former KGB and FSB general, was found dead by his driver in the backseat of his Lexus in Moscow in December 2016 in what appeared to be cardiac arrest. He was considered “the keeper of the secrets of the Kremlin”. Russian media reported that his body was recovered by the FSB. Allegations circulated that he worked for Western intelligence services.
Further in time, KGB assassin Bogdan Stashinsky, who passed to the west, claims that he killed two Ukrainian opponents in Germany, in 1957 and 1959 using an aerosol spray which sprayed cyanide causing death from cardiac arrest without a trace.
The Russians have been perfecting undetectable assassination techniques for nearly 100 years. By order of Lenin, the secret laboratory NII-2 or Lab X in Moscow began as early as 1921 to develop undetectable poisons for the Soviet secret service and it continues to do so now for the FSB.
Oleg Kalugin, the KGB defector general I interviewed in Washington, says Lab X developed the poison used in the famous “Bulgarian Umbrella” case. Kalugin is in a good position to know that. He was the one who planned the assassination in London in 1978 of Bulgarian journalist Georgi Markov who worked for the BBC. With a weapon concealed in his umbrella, the killer fired a tiny ricin ball at Markov’s calf. The case was initially classified as a natural death, but the meticulous English coroner found the marble in the corpse’s leg. The ricin was almost undetectable in the body of the deceased.
Famous dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn survived symptoms that suggested he had been contaminated with ricin after being encountered by KGB agents in 1971.
There is even a Quebecer who could have been the victim of such an assassination: Gilles Brunet, former staff sergeant of the RCMP security service. He died of an apparent heart attack on April 9, 1984 while managing the Centennial Memorial Gardens cemetery in Dollard-des-Ormeaux. CSIS and the CIA were preparing to confront him with the accumulated evidence of his betrayal for Moscow’s benefit.
I suspect the Soviets were made aware of what was going on from a source they still had within the Canadian Secret Service. On questioning, Brunet could have revealed the names of other members of the RCMP who worked for the Russians.
Real heart attack or undetectable poison? We can always doubt the causes of Gilles Brunet’s death. Unless someone ever has access to their file in the KGB archives … or the CSIS archives.