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Tailing Kara-Murza Bellingcat and its partners implicate FSB squad in suspected poisonings of Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza

Source: The Insider
Robin Utrecht / Shutterstock / Vida Press

The FSB unit implicated in the poisonings of Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny and three other victims has now been linked to two suspected assassination attempts on Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza. A new joint investigation from Bellingcat and its partners, The Insider and Der Spiegel, reveals that FSB agents were also tailing Kara-Murza just before his near-fatal poisonings in 2015 and 2017. Meduza summarizes the findings from this new report.

The 2015 poisoning

According to the investigative report, FSB agents began following opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza on his trips around Russia three months before his first poisoning, which took place in May 2015. During that time period, they tailed him on visits to Tomsk, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, and Kazan.

Alexander Samofal — an FSB officer who, according to Bellingcat and its investigative partners, also spied on anti-corruption activist Nikita Isayev prior to his fatal poisoning in 2019 — “accompanied” Kara-Murza on all four trips (Samofal wasn’t a member of the group that tailed Alexey Navalny, however). In addition, Konstantin Kudryavtsev — the FSB agent who Navalny managed to fool into detailing the Kremlin’s poisoning operation — followed Kara-Murza on one of these trips. 

Kara-Murza fell ill two days after returning to Moscow from Kazan. The investigative team speculates that he was poisoned either in his Moscow apartment (where he lived alone and there were no surveillance cameras in the lobby), or that the poison was applied to a pair of his underwear while he was still in Kazan and only took effect after Kara-Murza wore them after returning to Moscow. At the same time, the investigation underscores that they don’t have geo-location data from the federal agents’ cell phones, so it’s impossible to confirm their movements around Moscow during this period.

“It’s also curious that Kara-Murza planned to fly to a round table in Kaliningrad on May 27 — and he would have gone, if he hadn’t been poisoned on May 26,” writes The Insider, Bellingcat’s investigative partner in Russia. “The FSB agents who followed Vladimir on all of his previous trips didn’t even book tickets to Kaliningrad. Obviously, they knew in advance what would happen on May 26.”

After his hospitalization, Kara-Murza was diagnosed with “heart failure.” As underscored in the investigation, the circumstances surrounding his poisoning are “strikingly reminiscent to what happened with Navalny in Omsk” — the hospital’s head doctor insisted that Kara-Murza wasn’t fit to be transported and couldn’t be sent abroad for treatment. Meanwhile, anonymous sources began feeding stories to the press about the Kremlin critic overdosing on antidepressants. 

The 2017 poisoning 

Although, according to his lawyer, an external physician gave Kara-Murza a five percent chance of recovery, the Kremlin critic soon began to get better. After he resumed his travels around the country, federal agents started tailing him once again. As the joint investigation uncovered, FSB officers followed Kara-Murza to Kazan, St. Petersburg, and Nizhny Novgorod in 2016.

Kara-Murza was poisoned for the second time on February 2, 2017. But the investigation doesn’t provide any evidence that FSB officers were anywhere near him on the days immediately preceding the apparent attempt on his life. 

Nevertheless, the investigative team suggests that the poison could have been applied to his toothbrush. As The Insider writes:

“In this case, about eight hours passed between [Kara-Murza] leaving home and the sudden onset of symptoms — this is too much [time] for any known poisons [to take effect]. One of the most likely scenarios in this case is the application of the poison via his toothbrush. Like underwear, personal hygiene items are a very convenient tool for poisoning, since they exclude the possibility of use by third parties. On that day, Kara-Murza took a toothbrush with him and brushed his teeth about three to four hours before the onset of his symptoms.” 

After his second poisoning, Kara-Murza’s wife Evgeniya obtained samples of his blood from the hospital and later passed them to FBI agents. They promised her that the samples would be studied in laboratories accredited by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), but the FBI later refused to share the test results. Following a court order, the bureau published fragments of the report, maintaining that the rest of it was classified. The declassified information revealed only that the FBI had reached the conclusion that Kara-Murza was poisoned deliberately, but it didn’t reveal the exact substance used against him.

“Why such secrecy suddenly?” asks The Insider. “Perhaps a clue can be found in the several dozen as of yet unpublished pages of the case file. One of the declassified documents says that at the end of January 2018, someone (their name is hidden from the document) asking for a meeting with FBI Director Christopher Wray was supposed to fly to Washington.”

As underscored by The Insider and Bellingcat, in late January 2018, Russia’s FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov flew to the United States, along with Foreign Intelligence Service Chief Sergey Naryshkin and GRU Chief Igor Korobov — any one of them could have met with the director of the FBI, the investigative team notes. “The very fact that this meeting is mentioned in the documents on the Kara-Murza case suggests that [this] issue was discussed at the meeting, and in that case, the refusal to publish the test results may be part of some kind of deal,” The Insider concludes. 

Summary by Grigory Levchenko

Translation by Eilish Hart

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