The Navalny poisoning: has Vladimir Putin finally gone too far?

The world is no longer in any doubt whatsoever that the Russian state was behind the recent poisoning of political oppositionist Alexei Navalny, but then it was never intended to be. By using clearly identifiable modus operandi, and despite all the official denials, the Kremlin wants its fingerprints to be seen, and is sending out a strong and clear message: "cross us and you can die, wherever in the world you are."

Poisoning is a Russian favourite of course, and the use of military grade substances such as Novichok ensures that the world understands the lengths the country’s security services are prepared to go to.


The murder by poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London in November 2006, and the attempted killings of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in March 2018 by agents of the GRU, Russian military intelligence, also show that Vladimir Putin has no qualms about ordering his assassins in flagrant violation of international law.

Apart from poisoning, another method of dispatch clearly intended to leave dissenters or enemies in no doubt is the so-called “high-dive”. In the space of just two weeks earlier this year three doctors who had been critical of Putin’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak fell from upper floor windows.

About one, Alexander Shulepov, an ambulance doctor from Voronezh, the regional department of Russia's health ministry stated enigmatically that Shulepov was “a victim of an accident due to his own lack of caution.”

But it is not only doctors who fall from windows in Putin’s Russia. Journalists are also susceptible to such “accidents.”

Russian journalists will remember Ivan Safronov, who fell to his death in Moscow on March 2nd 2007 after revealing the failures of Putin’s much vaunted Bulava ICBM programme. They should remember him well: his "suicide" was a warning aimed directly at them.

Interestingly, after Safranov’s fall, which he survived, there were no emergency services available to help him, an ambulance arriving only after he had died. A similar situation occurred after the shooting of Putin critic Boris Nemtsov outside the walls of the Kremlin on February 27th, 2015.

In Britain also, Putin's enemies are known to have fallen from windows.

The London square was still and cold when the body fell, dropping silently through the moonlight and landing with a thud. Impaled through the chest on the spikes of a wrought iron fence, it dangled under the streetlamps as blood spilled onto the pavement. Overhead, a fourth-floor window stood open, the lights inside burning.

From Russia with blood, Buzzfeed, June 15th, 2017

Scot Young, a British "fixer" was part of a circle of nine men, including the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who all died suspiciously on British soil after making powerful enemies in Russia.

British police declared the deaths of all nine men in Berezovsky’s circle non-suspicious, but BuzzFeed News was to reveal that MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service, asked its US counterparts for information about each one of them “in the context of assassinations”.

One name that stands out amongst all of Putin's enemies to meet violent deaths, is that of Anna Politkovskaya, who exposed the truth about Putin’s Russia, and about his war in Chechnya. A perpetual thorn in the Russian leader’s side, she warned that under Putin Russia risked sliding back into Soviet-style dictatorship. She was shot dead outside her apartment on October 7th 2006, Vladimir Putin’s birthday.


Her brutal murder, as appalling as it was - she had been shot twice in the chest, once in the shoulder, and once in the head at point-blank range - and despite subsequent convictions, could well have been considered justifiable under current Russian law.

Following the introduction of a set of amendments to Russian legislation known as 153-FZ in July 2006, such critics of the state are considered to be “extremists”, and, as this is considered to make them a threat to the security of the state, as “terrorists”.

The amendments allow for the “elimination” of such persons in Russia or abroad on the direction of the president.

This last point was acknowledged by Sir Robert Owen, former judge of the High Court of England and Wales, following a public enquiry into the murder by poisoning in London in November 2006 of former Russian KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko.

Two laws passed through the Russian legislative process in the first part of 2006, to which I shall refer as ‘the 2006 laws’. At the time, some perceived the 2006 laws as a means by which President Putin might take action against the dissident community outside Russia, including in the UK. It is necessary to consider whether such fears may have been justified, and whether their enactment is a factor of any significance in the death of Mr Litvinenko.

Sir Robert Owen, Report into the death of Alexander Litvinenko

The crime was carried out by two Russian agents, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, the inquiry report said. There was a “strong probability” they were acting on behalf of the Russian FSB secret service, the report added, and concluded that Litvinenko was probably murdered on the personal orders of Vladimir Putin.

Following the Skripal poisonings, the UK government has become less reticent about naming the guilty.

There has also been a noticeable rise in the number of expulsions of Russian "diplomats" in the last year. EU and US sanctions continue to bite hard, and the resultant economic hardships are likely a factor in the unrest seen in Russian cities, and particularly in the city of Khabarovsk where citizens are expressing their dissatisfaction with Putin's appointment of a puppet governor in place of the popular Sergei Furgal, removed from office and flown to Moscow to face trumped-up charges.

The Navalny poisoning has served to further fuel the protests. Vladimir Putin may indeed have finally gone too far.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor and Brussels correspondent of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

Gary's latest book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

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