Unraveling the Kremlin's Web: Assassinations and Poisonings in Modern Russia

Over the years, political critics of the Kremlin, spies and investigative journalists have been killed or attacked in various ways

by Sededin Dedovic
Unraveling the Kremlin's Web: Assassinations and Poisonings in Modern Russia
© Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

Russia has been under the complete control of Putin's regime in recent years. He and his partners and associates have absolute power in Russia. Assassinations, poisonings, and mysterious deaths have become almost everyday, especially among political critics of the Kremlin, journalists, and enemies of the regime.

These events are not new, but they have become more frequent during the nearly quarter-century of President Vladimir Putin's rule. However, in the last 5 years there have been more politically motivated murders than in the previous 20 years of Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin's rule.

One of the most famous cases that happened recently is the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, a key political opponent of Putin. Navalny died in a polar prison colony, and was previously the target of an attempted nerve agent poisoning in 2020.

This is not an isolated case, but part of a wider trend of assassinations of Putin's opponents. Navalny himself said that he would probably be poisoned, and he said that relatively soon, as if he had a premonition that it would happen.

But although the death of Aleksei Navalny has attracted a lot of attention around the world, a series of murders have occurred in recent years. Navalny is not the only one the Putin regime has tried to silence. Pyotr Verzilov, the founder of the protest group "Pussy Riot", survived a poisoning attempt in 2018, which was allegedly motivated by his activism and public protests against the Kremlin.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, another prominent opposition figure, survived two poisoning attempts in 2015 and 2017, but was later convicted and imprisoned on political charges. In addition to political opponents, journalists who criticize the authorities are also often targeted.

An example is Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist from Novaya Gazeta, who was murdered in 2006. She was known for researching human rights violations in Chechnya and was a voice for the protection of media freedom in Russia. She was a fighter for human rights and minority rights in Russia, and enjoyed popularity throughout Europe and Asia.

Her murder, carried out on Putin's birthday, shocked the world and raised serious doubts about the independence of Russian justice. Investigative journalist Yuri Shchekochihin also died under suspicious circumstances in 2003 after investigating corruption and the role of Russian security services in the 1999 terrorist attacks on apartment buildings.

His death remains in doubt, with colleagues claiming he was poisoned, but that the authorities did not adequately investigate the case. Today, the repression of journalists is even greater, and there is rarely a journalist who has the courage to criticize the regime.

Even young people who called for a truce on social networks ended up in prison with long sentences.

Members of the Russian diaspora protest the sudden death of Alexi Navalny outside the Russian Embassy© Alex McBride / Getty Images

These incidents, along with many others, show a broad pattern of attacks on political dissidents and journalists opposed to the Putin regime.

Many of these cases went uninvestigated, or ended with minimal consequences for those responsible. Most of the investigated cases were "solved" by the state-controlled police being deliberately wrong. However, these attacks are not limited to domestic soil.

Russian agents have been linked to poisonings abroad, such as the case of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who was poisoned in London in 2006. A British investigation suggested Litvinenko was killed by a Russian agent, possibly with Putin's approval, sparking an international scandal.

At the time, Putin angrily rejected these allegations, saying that the British MI6 was responsible for the death. A similar incident occurred in 2018 when Sergei Skripal, a former double agent, and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent in Great Britain.

Although they survived, the attack claimed the life of one person associated with the case, while others suffered serious consequences. The British government accused Russian intelligence services of this attack as well, but the Kremlin again denied any involvement.

These incidents illustrate the deep political repression and lack of freedom of speech in Russia under Putin's regime. Enemies of the Kremlin face threats to their own lives, and journalists investigating corruption and human rights abuses risk their lives to uncover the truth.

This climate of fear and repression poses a serious challenge to democracy and human rights in Russia, while Putin's government holds tight to the reins of power and prevents any form of dissent. Putin holds the power firmly in his hands while at the same time instilling fear in the dispossessed who often flee the country and do not have enough courage to fight for their political convictions.

In addition, there is a wider international context in which these attacks are taking place. Russia often faces accusations of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, and attacks on Russian emigres and dissidents outside the country's borders often fuel diplomatic crises and international tensions.

These incidents further complicate the already strained relations between Russia and its external partners, especially the West. In addition, the presence and activity of Russian intelligence services abroad is becoming increasingly worrying for the international community.

The poisoning of political opponents and journalists in other countries is a serious violation of international law and a violation of the sovereignty of other countries. These actions further encourage international sanctions and the isolation of Russia at the international level, which is already maximally isolated.

A series of assassinations, poisonings, and mysterious deaths in Russia poses a serious challenge to democracy, the rule of law, and human rights in the country. But it seems almost impossible to solve for the inhabitants of Russia, a dictatorship has simply been established.

Putin's regime remains firmly anchored in power, but at the cost of stifling any form of dissent and freedom of speech. International human rights agencies cannot operate in Russia, and any impartial person raising this issue in Russia would likely end up in long prison terms or dead.