'Unidentified substance': high-profile stories of oppositionists' poisoning in Russia - ForumDaily
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'Unidentified substance': high-profile stories of oppositionists' poisoning in Russia

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny remains in intensive care at the Omsk hospital, where he was taken on the morning of August 20 with symptoms of poisoning. The plane with the oppositionist on board was forced to make an emergency landing in Omsk due to a sharp deterioration in Navalny's health, writes Air force.

Photo: Shutterstock

Although the deputy chief physician of the Omsk emergency hospital, Anatoly Kalinichenko, said that the studies did not confirm Navalny's poisoning, the politician's press secretary Kira Yarmysh, who accompanied him on the trip, suggested that it could have been deliberate poisoning.

“The preliminary diagnosis is “acute poisoning with an unidentified psychodysleptic” (psychodysleptics are substances that can cause hallucinations),” a source in medical circles told Interfax.

On the subject: Fell into a coma, connected to a ventilator: Navalny was urgently hospitalized with poisoning

Over the past five years, there have been several high-profile poisonings of opposition politicians and activists in Russia. In 2015, politician and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. was hospitalized with severe poisoning. In 2016, an attack with a syringe with an unidentified substance was committed on the anthropologist Sergei Mokhov, who at that time was researching the market for funeral services.

In February 2017, Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. was again hospitalized with symptoms of severe poisoning. And in 2018, with symptoms of poisoning and in a life-threatening condition, the actionist artist and publisher of Mediazona Pyotr Verzilov was hospitalized in Moscow.

The BBC Russian service asked Pyotr Verzilov and Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr. to tell about the circumstances of those poisonings.

Pyotr Verzilov: “Special poisoning operation”

My poisoning took place on September 11, 2018 on the first floor of the Basmanny District Court in Moscow.

Two days earlier, my girlfriend Nika Nikulshina was detained together with her friend in a car under very strange circumstances: the police asked them to go to check the car for theft. And then they spent two days in the police, awaiting trial on a rather insane charge of disobedience to police officers, although they, of course, immediately went to the police station at the request of the police.

On September 11, a trial was scheduled to begin at nine in the morning. By this time, lawyers, friends, a support group, and family had come to court. The trial eventually took place at XNUMX pm, and the judge (who is on Magnitsky's list) ruled that the girls were released in the courtroom after two days of arrest.

After that, my girlfriend Nika Nikulshina and I went home, and about three hours after leaving the Basmanny District Court building, I began to feel that I was losing coordination, that my vision was falling, that I could not walk, different parts of my body did not obey me. When I returned home and lay down on the bed, I began to feel very feverish, the temperature rose, and I lost consciousness - just in time for the ambulance doctors to arrive.

“Strange people - in uniform and without”

After that, I was taken by ambulance to the Bakhrushins' hospital [the city clinical hospital named after V.I. brothers Bakhrushins], where during the first day no one from my relatives and friends was allowed to see me. They didn’t let my mother in, despite the order of the Ministry of Health, which instructed to let close relatives in intensive care.

And during the first day at the Bakhrushin hospital, the entire intensive care floor where I was was actually blocked off, and there were a lot of strange, atypical people for the hospital - in uniform and without. As we later understood, this was done in order to protect and not give my loved ones access to my medical tests, which were taken on the first day, because in subsequent days the tests no longer showed any results. Tests showed that I was in perfect condition, but in fact I was near death.

"Unidentified substance"

Subsequently, doctors at the Berlin Charite Clinic (this is one of the best neurological and toxicological departments in the world) concluded that one of the main properties of the substance with which I was poisoned is its fantastically fast ability to be eliminated from the body, that is, after a day, tests did not detect this substance. This was precisely one of the main goals of using just such a substance in case of poisoning, in order to complicate its detection.

At the Bakhrushins' hospital they said that they did not understand what had happened, that this strange substance had an incomprehensible effect under incomprehensible circumstances. They said: here are the analyzes carried out a day later, and before that they had not performed any analyzes. Although it is known that the medical protocol of toxicology prescribes first of all an analysis in order to understand from which substance the patient needs to be saved.

A comic situation: the doctors say that I am dying, and the tests are pristine. The diagnosis had a complex wording, which essentially meant that I was poisoned with psychotropic drugs.

Later, German doctors confirmed that one of the possible drugs that was included in the cocktail with which I was poisoned was scopolamine.

This is a relatively rare substance that is used mainly in South America by criminals for various purposes. It has many different properties - instant action and so on. But German doctors also said that the cocktail could have many other components (they added other properties - delayed action, and so on). That is, the cocktail could consist of completely different components.

“On the brink of life and death” and a long recovery

I was hospitalized first at the Bakhrushin hospital, then for two more days at the Sklifosovsky Research Institute. Then it became clear that, indeed (as we now see in the case of Navalny): employees of special services are directly involved in the medical process and simply tell [the doctors] who to let in and what to write. It became clear that no adequate treatment or tests could be carried out [in Russia], so the decision was made to transfer me to the Berlin Charité clinic.

During another week in Berlin I was on the verge of life and death. Then my condition began to improve somewhat, but the doctors were not sure whether I retained my mental health due to the severity of the incident. Moreover, for several weeks I was in an extremely insane state - I was delirious, did not recognize my loved ones. I speak English fluently, but I addressed doctors in Russian and did not understand that I was in Berlin.

This serious condition lasted for almost a month. Moreover, I don’t remember almost any of this, because my brain did not perform the procedure of “recording” what was happening. I only remember myself in a good, recovering state.

As a result of the treatment, I was getting better. I was discharged at the end of September. Then I went to the hospital for procedures almost every day: I stayed in Berlin until the end of October, constantly visiting the clinic.

It took several more months to recover. Then the doctors said that I needed to go to some warm and safe place during rehabilitation, and Israel was chosen. He spent several months in Israel recovering and returning to normal condition.

"Aggressive inaction"

We call what happened aggressive inaction. Because both the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Investigative Committee, despite the appeals of my lawyer, talked this matter out to each other. And it is clear that it was very difficult for them to take on the case, the investigation of which had to begin with studying what was happening on the first floor of the Basmanny District Court - a special jurisdictional territory clearly controlled by special services.

And this aggressive inaction led to the fact that at some point another refusal to initiate a criminal case came simply on the basis that even the most basic formalities were not followed. In particular, they refused to open a criminal case without even questioning me. Then some local district police officer interviewed me (in the fall of 2019), and again the material went into some obscurity. And absolutely nothing has been done in two years.

“Revenge for the action at the 2018 World Cup”

At that time, we believed that this somehow more related to my investigation into the murder in Africa of my close friend Alexander Rastorguev, Orkhan Dzhemal and their operator. But after, having studied the materials, the situation and analyzed, we came to the conclusion that, most likely, it was revenge for the action at the World Cup in July 2018.

First, it [that action] took place in the presence of Putin, Macron and other foreign leaders and was regarded by Putin as a failure of the intelligence services. And since someone must have incurred disciplinary responsibility for this, there were certainly some sharply dissatisfied characters in the special services after this action.

On the subject: Russian intelligence chief talks about the Skripal poisoning and 'US attempts to rule the world'

Vladimir Kara-Murza: two poisonings in two years

Politician, chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. was hospitalized for the first time with symptoms of severe poisoning in May 2015, three months after the murder of Nemtsov.

On May 26, during a working meeting in the RIA Novosti building on Zubovsky Boulevard, Vladimir Kara-Murza suddenly felt ill.

“It’s become difficult to breathe, it’s very scary: you’re trying to breathe, but no air is getting into your lungs. There was terrible pain, I started vomiting, they carried me to the sofa, laid me down, and called an ambulance,” says Vladimir Kara-Murza. He doesn't remember what happened next.

“No one thought about poisoning”

At first, the politician was hospitalized in GKB No. 23 named after I.V. Davydovsky, but soon, due to the deterioration of his condition, he was transferred to the Center for Cardiovascular Surgery. A.N. Bakuleva.

“For some reason then the doctors decided to perform heart surgery. And we were not yet ready for the issue of poisoning. I tried to make a timid guess as to whether it was poisoning. Many years have passed since Shchekochikhin's death. In the end, Anna Politkovskaya was not killed by poisoning. That is, we were not very prepared for the fact that it could be poisoning,” says the politician’s lawyer Vadim Prokhorov.

“They had already started preparing for the operation, but, thank God, the outstanding cardiac surgeon Mikhail Alshibaya arrived and said: “Guys, what are you doing, he has a heart like an astronaut, this is clearly poisoning.” And only after that, a few days later, they began to treat him for poisoning. At that time he was already in a coma,” the lawyer recalls.

From the Bakulev center, Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. was transferred to the intensive care unit of the clinical hospital No. N.I. Pirogov. There, his attending physician was Denis Protsenko, who is now well known to the general public as the head physician of the 1th hospital in Kommunarka, which received the first patients with COVID-40.

“Kidneys, lungs, heart failed”

According to Vladimir Kara-Murza, it was thanks to Denis Protsenko that he managed to survive.

The politician who fell into a coma failed in his kidneys, lungs, heart, and he was completely transferred to the artificial life support system.

“My wife wanted to take me out of Russia, but they explained to her that I wouldn’t survive without all this equipment,” said Vladimir Kara-Murza. Doctors told his wife Evgenia Kara-Murza that Vladimir had a 5% chance of survival.

For the first time he came to himself in the ward, which was all crammed with equipment that supported his life.

Treatment and recovery took many months. “After something like this, you literally learn to walk again, your body learns to work again. It’s very painful and difficult,” admits Vladimir Kara-Murza.

For another year after the poisoning, he walked with a cane.

After the first incident, the politician received the results of an examination carried out in France, according to which the norms for the content of heavy metals in his body were significantly exceeded. However, on the basis of the data obtained, experts could no longer establish the substance with which Kara-Murza was poisoned. The presence of heavy metals only confirmed the version of poisoning.

"Unidentified substance"

“That is, these are apparently traces of the decay of some kind of toxic substance. But they couldn’t tell us which one exactly. The first time, blood samples were taken only on the third or fourth day, and the second time - on the second day after poisoning,” says Vadim Prokhorov.

In December 2015, Vladimir Kara-Murza filed an application addressed to the chairman of the ICR, Alexander Bastrykin, with a demand to initiate a criminal case on the fact of his poisoning.

Later, the politician’s lawyer Vadim Prokhorov will say that the entire time - from the moment the application was submitted until the second hospitalization - the investigators did not take any active action.

The second time Kara-Murza was hospitalized on the night of February 1-2, 2017, a few hours before the flight to the USA, with signs of “acute intoxication with an unknown substance.”

Vladimir Kara-Murza notes that poisoning before boarding the plane can be a tactic of the organizers of the poisoning, since it is difficult to provide all the necessary medical care in the air.

Poisoning before flight

“And what’s interesting: the first poisoning happened a day or two after he [Vladimir Kara-Murza] flew from Kazan to Moscow. It is possible that this is where it happened. On an airplane, as far as I understand, it’s convenient to poison people because everyone eats their own food and no one eats their neighbor’s food,” adds lawyer Vadim Prokhorov.

According to Vladimir Kara-Murza, he was lucky that at the moment when he felt bad for the second time, he was not yet on the plane and not alone, his wife's parents were nearby, who called an ambulance.

After hospitalization, Kara-Murza was put into a drug-induced coma. Then his wife in an interview with the BBC said that the situation again resembles deliberate poisoning.

“His heart rate increased greatly - so much that it became difficult to breathe. He was taken to the hospital, and a few hours later his organs began to fail again - just like the last time,” said Evgenia Kara-Murza.

Now Vladimir Kara-Murza says that he was very lucky again.

Plasma transfusion

“I again ended up with Denis Protsenko, who already knew what to do in such cases. If the first time I was in a coma for almost three weeks, then the second time it was a week,” explains Kara-Murza.

As Vadim Prokhorov emphasizes, the condition of his client has improved markedly after a blood plasma transfusion.

“On February 2, he was hospitalized, and on February 4, Dr. Andrei Bykov replaced Volodya’s blood plasma, and Volodya began to recover. This, by the way, is another striking symptom of poisoning, if after replacing blood plasma a person gets better,” the lawyer emphasizes.

After the second poisoning, Vladimir Kara-Murza filed a new application with the ICR to initiate a criminal case on the fact of his poisoning.

However, it was only in April 2018 that the Investigative Committee resumed an investigation into the facts of two poisonings. This happened after the poisoning of ex-employee of the Russian special services Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

The investigator specially installed skype

“The investigator contacted me himself and said that he was conducting an investigation before initiating a criminal case and that he needed to interview Volodya. I told him that he is now abroad. He replied: we’ll do it on Skype. And for the first time in the history of the Investigative Committee, explanations were taken via Skype. The investigator was in Moscow, at the Investigative Committee for the Khamovniki district, and I was in Moscow, and Volodya was in Washington. He gave explanations, and his wife Evgenia also gave explanations,” recalls Vadim Prokhorov.

When asked by investigators about who he considers involved in his poisonings, Vladimir Kara-Murza replied that “the method chosen for the assassination attempts indicates the involvement of representatives of the Russian special services.”

And then - silence again.

“In general, according to the law, a decision should have been made - either to initiate a criminal case or to refuse. My version is that there were refusal orders, which were canceled by prosecutors, and then issued again. But as a result, we never received them,” explains the lawyer.

FBI "mistake"

In 2017, after the second poisoning, samples for analysis of Kara-Murza were transferred to the US FBI. According to Vadim Prokhorov, representatives of the FBI contacted Vladimir before the new year 2018 and told him that they “found something interesting.”

“And then there was the trip to the United States by the head of the foreign intelligence service Sergei Naryshkin, the director of the FSB Alexander Bortnikov, and the (former) head of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Igor Korobov. This was January-February 2018. And after the visit of this trio, Volodya was told by the FBI: sorry, we were mistaken, we can’t tell you anything,” Vadim Prokhorov recreates the picture.

“Volodya began to make attempts to obtain information about himself. And in 2018, senators and congressmen, including [Senator] Marco Rubio, began to help Volodya cope with this misfortune in the face of the FBI. I must say that they all received a rather rude response. That is, it became clear that the special services were hiding it on purpose. My hypothesis is that during the trip, Bortnikov and the company exchanged the FBI’s commitment not to reveal anything to Volodya for some story - rumored to be a story with an American. It’s a normal story for the intelligence services, but we didn’t like it all,” says the lawyer.

In February of this year, the politician sued the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and demanded that he inform him of the results of his tests. The court ordered the FBI to provide Kara-Murza with data on the test results by mid-October 2020.

On the subject: Bleach against coronavirus: in the USA sharply increased cases of poisoning with household chemicals

Sergey Mokhov: unidentified substance and police inaction

In November 2016, the anthropologist Sergei Mokhov was attacked. An unknown person at Mokhov's house pounced on him and injected some liquid into his thigh.

Mokhov managed to inform his wife, Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, by phone about the attack.

Soon after the attack with a syringe, Mokhov began to convulse, he fell and could not move.

He was taken to the Sklifosovsky Research Institute, where it turned out that the injected drug quickly dissolved in the body and cannot be accurately determined. The doctors ruled out the possibility of an overdose with any pharmaceutical drug, specifying that such a substance cannot be purchased at a pharmacy.

Lyubov Sobol suggested that there could be two versions of the attack.

“My husband is an anthropologist, and he also works on the topic of cemetery infrastructure and studies the market for funeral services; he recently gave several interviews in which, among other things, he mentioned corruption stories in this area,” said Lyubov Sobol.

She also did not rule out that the attack on Sergei Mokhov was related to her activities in the Anti-Corruption Foundation. “For the last year, with my colleagues, I have been actively investigating the activities of Yevgeny Prigozhin, who ordered attacks on journalists. The attackers did not leave any kind of “message,” so we can only guess,” Sobol concluded.

In June 2018, a court in Moscow declared illegal the inaction of the police after an attack by unknown persons on the editor-in-chief of the magazine “Archaeology of Russian Death” Sergei Mokhov. This happened after lawyer Sergei Badamshin filed a complaint against a police captain named Khomich, who had repeatedly refused to initiate a case.

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