Wednesday, August 17

The Kremlin and its fascination with poison


“Our leaders have always been interested in the poison“. This lapidary phrase, referring to the extinct Soviet Union and that seems taken from an Agatha Christie novel, has not been pronounced by any character. It was the conclusion with which a chapter of Special Tasks (Special operations), the chilling and detailed autobiography of Pavel Sudoplatov, senior officer of the Soviet secret services during the Stalin era, published in 1994, a few years after the dissolution of the USSR.

The forceful assertion, pronounced by someone who in his day received the nickname of terminator of the Georgian dictator, has regained its validity this week, when it was reported that Anatoli Chubaisthe father of privatizations during the 90 and the highest-ranking Russian politician who has defected since the start of the war in Ukraine, had been hospitalized in a European country suffering from a rare neurological disease. His doctors do not rule out that he may have been poisoned, while the facial paralysis he suffers from, in addition to his inability to walk, shake all speculation.

If confirmed, the news would not have anything strange. As the most relevant president who has abandoned Putin due to his disagreement with the contest, Chubáis fits like a glove in the profile of the target character to be eliminated through this old method, which in the eyes of the Kremlin seems to be more attractive than a execution by firearm or even a accident, to give two examples. “Poisoning grants the Kremlin a large degree of plausible deniability“, assures EL PERIÓDICO John Sipher, ex-CIA agent for 28 years, and stationed in the 90s in Moscow. The Russian authorities will deny through all channels accusations “but the message (that the country does not forgive traitors) will be understood by the people it is addressed to,” Sipher continues.

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Christo Grozev, investigative journalist on the web bellingcat Y winner of the european press award in 2019 as the author of the information that revealed the identity of the Russian agents who poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yúlia, goes beyond plausible deniability. In an email addressed to this newspaper, he assures that in the case of the poisoning of opponents inside Russia, “the forensic investigation is entrusted to the FSB’s Institute of Criminology (Federal Security Serviceone of the heirs of the KGB) in Moscow, which is in fact the institution that supervises the poisoning program”. “It is the perfect crime, because the investigator investigates himself, and of course, he does not find no trace“, he concludes. Even if the operation does not go as planned, as it seems to have been the case with the failed assassination of anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalni with a toxic agent from the Novichok group, it “generates terror and has great deterrent effects among political and human rights activists”.

No historical novelty

The method does not constitute in any case any historical novelty. As revealed by the Agent SudoplatovIt was Vladimir Ilich Lenin, the first leader of the USSR, who created the first laboratory in 1921, although it was not until years later that the Soviet leaders decided to direct its use towards the elimination of opponents. The years in which Stalin was at the head of the country, the program, which has been baptized throughout history with names such as Lab X, camera, Laboratory 1 or Laboratory 12was led by Grigory Marianovskya biochemist of Jewish origin who, like Joseph Mengele and other Nazi scientists, conducted experiments on Gulag prisoners, supplying them, with the food or as medication, toxic substances like castor, I will cure or mustard gas in his quest to find a flavorless poison that would leave no trace.

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The list of illustrious people poisoned by Soviet and Russian espionage is long. on the construction site Special TasksSudoplatov goes so far as to affirm that the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenbergwho disappeared during the Soviet occupation of Hungary in the aftermath of World War II and whose fate constitutes one of the great mysteries to solve of the contemporary era, was a victim of these experiments. “My estimate is that Wallenberg”, whom the Soviet services “tried to recruit unsuccessfully“He was killed” by an injection of poison as a medical treatment,” writes the former agent. His body “was cremated” since an autopsy “would have revealed the exact nature of his death,” he asserts.

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Nowadays, Lab X doesn’t have one concrete locationa. “We have identified several locations such as el Signal Scientific Institute in Moscow or the Institute of Applied Acoustics in Dubná”, although the program is also developed “in military installations”, explains Grozev. “A former deputy director of the GRU”, the military intelligence service, “coordinates this virtual program”, continues the specialist, in which “his scientists they work hand to hand with his colleagues in the GRU, the FSB or the SVR”, the foreign intelligence service.

Despite the long tradition in Russia and the USSR of poisoning opponents, it has undoubtedly been under the mandate of Vladimir Putin when this method has been most often employed on the home front. “I do not know the reason, but his biographers have described his strange fascination with the use of poison in his secret agent stage in East Germany,” Grozev stresses.

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