Russia and Navalny: the poison factor

Alexei Navalny and Russia’s history of poisoned dissidents | DW News

Luke Harding: Using Poisons – classic KGB technique, and Putin – typical KGB officer

Luke Harding, journalist for the British newspaper Guardian, author of four books on Russia, including one that came out in June «Shadow state» («Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem and Russia’s Remaking of the West»), which mentions the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, and «Very expensive poison» («A very expensive poison») about the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. Harding has long been collecting information on the use of poisons by Russian intelligence services..

Margot Gontard: Why Alexey Navalny was poisoned right now?

Luke Harding: This is a great question. Perhaps ten, twelve or fifteen people in Russia know the answer. It will be kept secret in a very narrow circle close to the presidential administration. These are several people close to Putin, and, possibly, the head of the FSB. And that’s all.

But we can make guesses. I think there are several processes that influenced this. In Belarus, a large-scale popular uprising is taking place against the president-dictator, who has been in power for more than two decades. Doesn’t it remind anyone? Obviously this will have implications for Russia – both strategic and political, but also personal implications for Putin.

In the Russian Far East, protests have been going on for several weeks, which is a significant phenomenon in itself. They are attended by ordinary citizens tired of corruption. Yes, Khabarovsk is far from Moscow, but you can see this fear. Interestingly, the Putin regime combines extreme arrogance and chronic, almost adolescent insecurity that ramps down to paranoia and absurdity..

In addition, as always in Russia, someone decided to get rid of Navalny just because he could do it. I do not think that such an operation could have been carried out without Putin’s prior approval. We saw this in the story of Alexander Litvinenko (a former FSB officer who fled to the UK, poisoned with polonium in London in 2006 – GA). We had court hearings, at which a huge amount of evidence was demonstrated that Putin approved this operation (to eliminate Litvinenko – GA).

One more thing. As we know from Pavel Sudoplatov, the high-ranking Stalinist intelligence chief who organized the assassination of Trotsky in Mexico, traditionally in Soviet bureaucratic culture there is only one person who makes decisions about life and death. it – leader, this – master, this is – president, this is – king, this – Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. We know about the origin «Newbie», and Putin knows that we know it.

M.G .: What is the confidence that Russia is behind these poisonings??

L. Kh .: It is very simple. «Newbie» produced only in Russia. It cannot be bought in the store, it cannot be found while walking the dog.. «Newbie» – this is a state, and not every state. It needs to be developed in secret laboratories, which, as we know, Russia has.

It is highly toxic and incredibly complex. It took scientists several years just to figure out how to handle it. For example, it was originally synthesized in crystalline form, it took a way to turn it into a liquid. For production «Newbie» it is not enough to have good grades in chemistry at school, you need to be a professional surrounded by professionals. And I think Russia has the necessary knowledge, resources, skills and cunning for this..

Use of poisons – classic KGB technique, and Putin –a typical KGB operative. The secret services in Russia have been using poisons since the days of Lenin. On the outskirts of Moscow there is a famous secret laboratory, the object of admiration of successive members of the Politburo, which is responsible for the ricin poisoning of Georgiy Markov (Bulgarian dissident killed in London – GA). She has a legendary history, and everything we know about her suggests that the laboratory is still active..

The poison is effective, easy to use, and at the same time, its use is easy to disguise, difficult to prove. Its use is easy to deny and difficult to prove, especially if the evidence has been destroyed, which I think is what happened in the Navalny poisoning case. Moreover, the use of poison instills fear in everyone..

M.G .: A number of experts also point to a certain theatricality and obviousness of the connection with Russia as the reason why the Kremlin uses poisons. Do you agree with this view?

L. Kh .: Yes, I agree with that. He has (poison – GA) there are demonstrative features. There is something like a pose in this: «Look at me». When Russia interfered in the 2016 American elections, it did little to hide it..

And yes, it’s also very theatrical. My book about the poisoning of Litvinenko «Very expensive poison» was turned into a play for the Old Vic Theater in London. It’s more of a show than a play – with jokes, dances, huge dolls of Gorbachev and Brezhnev. Theatre – a good way to convey the story of killers carrying polonium around London. There is something demonstrative in this, although, of course, formally denied. However, this is clearly for show and, although I am not Freud, it seems that this is a desperate attempt to attract attention..

I have already written four books about Russia. The aggressive, repressive state that I encountered when I was working in Moscow conducts these insanely exotic, daring operations. And I think we will see their sequel. This is a new reality, when a rogue country like Russia, from time to time, is happy with something and looks at what will happen next. And if nothing happens, he repeats it over, and over, and over, over and over again..

M.G .: Will we see any consequences of Navalny’s poisoning??

L. Kh .: With international will and cooperation, it would be possible, for example, to recognize the GRU and the FSB as terrorist organizations for the poisoning of Litvinenko, Skripal, Navalny, and Putin’s Russia – a state sponsoring terrorism. If the United States does this, it will have consequences. You can also send more Russian diplomats. Two years ago, after the poisoning of the Skripals, Great Britain, along with its allies, expelled about 150 GRU officers who worked under diplomatic cover. You can continue this practice.

Russia and Navalny: the poison factor

But I suspect that this time there will be only words of condemnation. We have already heard them from Merkel, Boris Johnson and other leaders. Perhaps there will be more sanctions. But the problem is that this is a Russian citizen poisoned on the territory of Russia. So, even considering the presence of very clear, «unambiguous», according to the German authorities, the evidence that Navalny was poisoned was «Newbie», we have no other evidence because they magically disappeared.

So this is more complicated than in the case of the poisoning of Litvinenko and Skripal, when we had evidence of Russia’s involvement in this. This time there is only circumstantial evidence, and I think Russia will try to use this in its disinformation campaign. They are already repeating: they say, there is nothing to investigate, because there is no evidence. And they will repeat this until we all grow old.

M.G .: What is known about the Russian program of creating poisons?

L. Kh .: Little is known about her. The best proof we have, – This is classified information from American intelligence that the United States shared with the United Kingdom after the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury. It is known that Russia secretly produced large reserves «Newbie», that Putin is personally following or at least informed about this chemical weapons program and that even before the Skripal poisoning, special forces were trained in the use of «Newbie». We know the program exists. We know that this is a state secret. And we also know that there is only one country that produces «Newbie», – Russia. So this is a bit like Soviet times: the existence of the program is officially denied, but it is obviously there, and we can see the tragic consequences of this..

M.G .: What do you think to expect in the future?

L. Kh .: We know about «Newbie» much more than three years ago. It became known that the German doctors involved in the treatment of Navalny communicated with representatives of the British laboratory, which discovered «Newbie» after the poisoning of the Skripals. Obviously, there is an exchange of experience.

We do not know if Navalny will fully recover. It all depends on how strong the poisoning was, and on the dosage of the substance. Age, health status and other factors are also important. However, we do know that his chances of recovery are significantly higher than they would have been five or ten years ago, when people did not yet know what they were dealing with..

I think the Putin regime is going nowhere. I think Putin wants to live and rule forever, for thousands of years, like a pharaoh or some character from the Old Testament. I don’t think he has a retreat plan. He understands the logic of the situation, and it lies in the fact that as soon as he leaves the presidency, he will be in danger. Therefore, he can only continue what he started. It is possible that he will hold on as president until 2036 and even much longer and become something like Nazarbayev..

Russia and Navalny: the poison factor

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