- Share to or
Poisonings and break-ins Investigative journalists report multiple attacks abroad against Russian oppositionists in the months ahead of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine
In the past several years, and especially in the months leading up to Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine and the early days of the ensuing war, multiple Kremlin critics have complained of symptoms consistent with poisoning. Several more reported break-ins at their hotel rooms while traveling. The Russian independent news outlet Agentstvo suggested, in a recent report, that all of these events are related, and that the people who carried them out may be connected to Russian intelligence services. Meduza summarizes the report’s findings.
Two sources told Agentstvo that John Herbst, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006 and the senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, reported symptoms consistent with poisoning several months before the start of the full-scale Russia-Ukraine war.
The outlet reports that two other similar cases occurred in spring 2023. In early May, Natalia Arno, who heads the Free Russia Foundation, felt numbness and pain in various parts of her body during a business trip to Prague, her acquaintances told Agentstvo. Not long before her symptoms appeared, the activist says she discovered her hotel room’s door open and a strange smell inside like “cheap perfume.” When Arno returned to the U.S., where she’s been living the past few years, she went to the hospital as well as to the U.S. authorities.
In late April, a Russian journalist who had recently left Russia went to a clinic in Berlin, Germany, complaining of “health problems.” Around the same time, Arno participated in a conference of Russian opposition leaders, which former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsy organized. The conference was also in Berlin. The journalist told Agentstvo that her symptoms “may have started before the conference.” She didn’t discuss what her symptoms were or what treatment she had received.
Agentstvo did not disclose the journalist’s name “for ethical reasons,” though it’s unclear why the publication printed the names of other people who had potentially been poisoned and who declined to comment.
On May 21, the German police confirmed that they were investigating possible poison attacks against Arno and one other woman, both “Russian exiles” who had attended Khodorkovsky’s conference, reports Reuters. The German police gave no further details about the victims or suspects in the cases.
Agentsvo says the FBI has started investigating Herbst’s and Arno’s cases, however the results of those investigations are unknown. After Agentstvo published its report, Arno shared more details on Facebook, saying she may have been poisoned by “some kind of nerve agent” during a recent trip to Europe. In her post, Arno said she is still experiencing numbness and that Western intelligence services are investigating.
The Atlantic Council also confirmed that Herbst experienced symptoms consistent with poisoning in April 2021. An analysis of his blood revealed heightened levels of toxins. The doctors who treated the former diplomat, however, couldn’t unequivocally conclude that poisoning had caused Herbst’s illness. Law enforcement also later took blood samples from Herbst, but an analysis of those samples didn’t detect any toxic compounds. The former ambassador has made a full recovery, according to a statement by the Atlantic Council.
The Agentstvo report mentions one additional case that is not directly related to the poisonings. The publication says investigative journalist Christo Grozev, who serves as the executive director of the research collective Bellingcat, was at a conference in summer 2022 in Montenegro when he discovered that the door to his hotel room had been opened. One of Grozev’s acquaintances said that intruders may have accessed information stored on Grozev’s personal devices. Grozev confirmed to Agentstvo that his phone disappeared from the room.
In February 2023, Grozev told the Vienna newspaper Falter that he was leaving Austria, where he’d lived for 20 years, after receiving warnings of a threat from Russian intelligence.
- Share to or