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'Running away would be a gift to the Kremlin'

Juri Rescheto
February 16, 2021

The Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza believes that he was poisoned by Russia's Federal Security Service. He told DW about the findings of an investigation into the security agency's suspected role in his ailment.

The FSB headquarters
Bellingcat investigated the role of Russia's FSB security service in poisoning operationsImage: Mladen Antonov/AFP

According to a report by the Bellingcat research collective, the prominent opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza was likely poisoned by Russia's secret service, the FSB. Bellingcat maintains that Kara-Murza was targeted for assassination in May of 2015 and February 2017 by the same team of agents who attempted to poison the Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in 2020. Kara-Murza has been a vehement critic of President Vladimir Putin for years. He was a close confidant to the opposition activist and Putin rival Boris Nemtsov, who was fatally shot in 2015. Since 2014, Kara-Murza has worked for the Kremlin-critical Open Russia Foundation, which was founded by former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. 

DW: A joint team of journalists has investigated the possible role of the FSB in your poisoning. Were you surprised by the results of their investigation?

Kara-Murza: I was definitely not surprised by the conclusions, because it was obvious to me and to many people from the very beginning, that what happened to me in May of 2015 and February of 2017, when I suddenly went into a coma with multiple organ failure and nearly died in Moscow hospitals, that it was the result of deliberate poisoning — poisoning with the intent to kill. The doctors told my wife that I had about a 5% chance of surviving. That's not a scare tactic; that's an attempted killing. And it was absolutely obvious from the very beginning that the reason for those two attempts on my life was my involvement over many years now in the international campaign for accountability for high-ranking human rights abusers, corrupt officials and oligarchs in Vladimir Putin's close circle, who have made a habit of stealing here in Russia and stashing that stolen money in the west.

Vladimir Kara-Murza speaking into a microphone
Vladimir Kara-Murza says he was targeted by two FSB unitsImage: Reuters/J. Roberts

Do you know exactly when, where and with what you were poisoned?

Well, we always knew when, because I believe it takes between three and eight hours for these chemical substances to start working through the skin. We now know that it works much faster if absorbed though food or drink. I suppose that's a new thing that I learned: that this was done through clothes, by putting the substance on clothes. We learned this from the investigation into the attempted assassination of Alexei Navalny last year. And by the way, exactly the same people who were involved in the attempt on his life were also involved in the two attempts on my life.

Two things are really shocking to me on a personal level. First, I was shocked by how early they began to track me. Secondly, the modus operandi was very similar each time. As, the way, it was with Alexei Navalny as well. The operatives would always go to the region I was visiting the day before me, I assume to prepare the ground, as it were. They were officers both from the Federal Security Service (FSB) and from the FSB Criminalistics Institute, also referred to as NII-2 (Research Institute-2), which deals with chemical weapons. They would always get there a day early to prepare everything. This is how they acted every time.

All in all, did the investigation into the poisoning of Navalny help you understand your own poisoning? Do you see a direct connection?

Yes, it was carried out by the same team of professional assassins. I guess we've become used to the Putin regime and sometimes our critical faculties aren't as sharp as they could be. We should be more shocked than we are by the fact that in the 21st century, the Russian state is operating a team of professional murderers who go around the country poisoning people on direct orders from their superiors.

Are you going to push for new US and EU sanctions against Russia?

There should be sanctions not against Russia but against specific crooks, criminals, corrupt officials and human rights abusers who are in Vladimir Putin's close circle. They have made Russia their looting ground and are stashing that loot in the West. These would be targeted sanctions against them, not against Russia. In fact they would help Russia. And yes, we continue to work with other western jurisdictions.

Are you afraid of potential new attacks?

Well, I am a human being. It's not pleasant when someone tries to kill you twice. But what can you do? I can't not eat, not drink, not wear clothes. Not even twenty bodyguards could help against what they've tried to do to me. The only specific security measure I have taken is to have my family leave Russia. My wife and my children are abroad for obvious reasons.

As for me and other oppositionists, running away would be a gift to the Kremlin. That's exactly what they want. And, once political activists leave the country, they lose the moral right, the moral authority, to continue their work.  We know that there are a great many people in Russia today who reject everything that Putin's regime stands for and who want Russia to become, to use Alexei Navalny's words, a normal European country.

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Juri Rescheto DW Riga Bureau Chief