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Nerve agents, poison and window smashes: over the years, opponents of the Kremlin have been attacked or killed

In this pool photo shared by the Sputnik agency, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation on August 22, 2023 in Moscow to mark Russian National Flag Day.

Mikhail Klimentyev | AFP | Getty Images

Attacks range from the exotic—poisoning from drinking polonium-infused tea or touching a deadly neurotoxin—to the more mundane, point-blank shooting. Some fall fatally from an open window.

Over the years, the Kremlin’s political critics, renegade spies, and investigative journalists have been variously killed or attacked.

However, it is known that none of them died in a flight accident. But on Wednesday a private plane with a mercenary chief which staged a brief uprising in Russia, after disintegrating, fell from a height of several thousand meters into a field.

Assassination attempts against enemies of President Vladimir Putin were commonplace during his almost quarter-century tenure. People close to the victims and the few survivors have blamed Russian authorities, but the Kremlin has routinely denied involvement — as it did on Friday, saying it was “an outright lie” it did something to do with the plane crash.

There were also reports of prominent Russian executives dying under mysterious circumstances, including falling from windows. However, whether these were premeditated killings or suicides is sometimes difficult to determine.

Some prominent cases of documented killings or attempted killings:

Political opponents

In August 2020, opposition leader Alexei Navalny took office feel sick on a flight from Siberia to Moscow. The plane landed in the city of Omsk, where Navalny was hospitalized in a coma. Two days later he was flown to Berlin, where he recovered.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, is listed as a passenger in the fatal plane crash

His allies almost immediately said he had been poisoned, but Russian officials denied this. Laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden confirmed that Navalny was poisoned by a Soviet-era nerve agent called Novichok, which he said was applied to his underwear. Navalny returned to Russia and was convicted of extremism this month and sentenced to 19 years in prison. This is his third prison sentence in two years on charges he believes are politically motivated.

In 2018, Pyotr Versilov, one of the founders of the Pussy Riot protest group, fell seriously ill and was also flown to Berlin, where doctors thought poisoning was “highly plausible”. He eventually recovered. Earlier this year, Versilov embarrassed the Kremlin when he ran onto the field with three other activists at the World Cup final in Moscow to protest police brutality. His allies said he could have been targeted for his activism.

Prominent opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza survived what he believes to be poisoning attempts in 2015 and 2017. He nearly died of kidney failure in the first case and suspects poisoning, but could not determine the cause. He was hospitalized with a similar illness in 2017 and placed in a medically induced coma. His wife said doctors confirmed he was poisoned. Kara-Murza survived and his lawyer said the police refused to investigate. That year he was convicted of treason and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The most well-known murder of a political opponent in recent years was that of Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov, once Deputy Prime Minister under Boris Yeltsin, was a popular politician and harsh critic of Putin. On a cold February night in 2015, he was shot dead by attackers on a bridge next to the Kremlin while he was out with his girlfriend, shocking the whole country. Five men from Russia’s Chechnya region were convicted, and the shooter received up to 20 years in prison, but Nemtsov’s allies said their involvement was an attempt to shift blame from the government.

Former Secret Service employees

What next for Russia after the Wagner Group mercenary uprising?

Another former Russian intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, was poisoned in Britain in 2018. He and his adult daughter Yulia fell ill in the city of Salisbury and spent weeks in critical condition. They survived, but the attack later claimed the life of a British woman and left a man and a police officer seriously ill.

Authorities said both were poisoned with the military nerve agent Novichok. Britain blamed Russian intelligence, but Moscow denied any involvement. Putin called Skripal, a British double agent during his espionage career, a “scumbag” of no interest to the Kremlin because he was tried in Russia and exchanged in 2010 as part of a spy exchange.


Scores of journalists critical of the agency in Russia have been killed or suffered mysterious deaths, in some cases blamed by their colleagues on someone in the political hierarchy. In other cases, the authorities’ reported reluctance to investigate raised suspicions.

Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper whose death Litvinenko was investigating, was shot in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006 – Putin’s birthday. She had gained international recognition for her reporting on human rights violations in Chechnya. The gunman, who was from Chechnya, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Four other Chechens received reduced prison terms for their involvement in the murder.

Anti-Putin activist Bill Browder says a

Yuri Shchekochikhin, another reporter for Novaya Gazeta, died in 2003 from a sudden and violent illness. Shchekochikhin examined corrupt business deals and the possible role of Russian security services in the 1999 apartment bombings attributed to Chechen insurgents. His colleagues claimed he was poisoned and accused the authorities of deliberately obstructing the investigation.

Yevgeny Prigozhin and his lieutenants

Wednesday’s plane crash, which is believed to have killed Yevgeny Prigozhin and first lieutenants of his private military company Wagner, came exactly two months to the day after he launched an armed uprising that Putin has called “stab in the back” and “treason.” designated. While not critical of Putin, Prigozhin did criticize the Russian military leadership and questioned the motives behind the war in Ukraine.

On Thursday, a preliminary assessment of the US Secret Service found that the crash, which killed all 10 people on board, was caused intentionally by an explosion, according to US and Western officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to comment. One said the blast was consistent with Putin’s “long history of trying to silence his critics.”

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected accusations that the Kremlin was behind the crash. “Of course, in the West, these speculations are conducted from a certain point of view and everything is a complete lie,” he told reporters on Friday.

In his first public comments on the crash, Putin seemed to imply that there was no bad blood between him and Prigozhin. But Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speechwriter turned political analyst, said: “Putin has proved that if you do not obey him unquestioningly, even if you are officially a patriot, he will ruthlessly eliminate you like an enemy.”

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