Opinion: Russia’s FSB poisoned another Putin critic. It’s chilling.
Opinion by the Editorial Board. June 11, 2021
DMITRY BYKOV is a prodigious polymath of Russian letters and journalism. He has written prize-winning biographies and was part of a team that created “Citizen Poet,” a hit series online and on television offering biting political satire. For a decade, he has been a leading voice in opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin. On April 13, 2019, traveling with his wife, Ekaterina Kevkhishvili, he arrived at Novosibirsk in Siberia for the first stop in a three-city lecture tour. Unbeknownst to Mr. Bykov, two officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) arrived just hours before he did.
What happened next is chilling. According to a report published Wednesday by the open-source investigative outfit Bellingcat and its partners, Mr. Bykov was away from his hotel room for several hours while serving as an honorary reader in a popular spelling contest in the city. On April 14, the FSB men left the city and flew back to Moscow. On April 15, Mr. Bykov and his wife flew to Yekaterinburg for a lecture. On April 16, they took a taxi to the airport there for a flight to Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, 840 miles east of Moscow. Mr. Bykov began feeling nauseous at the airport but boarded the flight. By the time the plane was in the air, he became violently ill, vomiting, dripping with sweat and breathing heavily, and he lay down on the aisle floor. At Ufa, on the way to the hospital by ambulance, his wife says his speech turned to jumbled, incoherent sounds.
This set of events is almost identical to what happened to Russia’s opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, more than a year later, in August 2020. Bellingcat, in partnership with the Insider and Der Spiegel, suggests that Mr. Bykov was sickened by a secret poison squad of FSB officers, including some who later attempted to assassinate Mr. Navalny. The Bellingcat report documents how the FSB officers trailed Mr. Bykov and suggests they may have covertly placed the poison on his clothes when he was away from his hotel room.
Mr. Bykov suffered symptoms in Ufa similar to Mr. Navalny’s. He was later transferred from Ufa to a neurological institute in Moscow and recovered. Doctors never determined the cause of the poisoning. In Mr. Navalny’s case, subsequent tests abroad showed the poison squad used a substance similar to the nerve agent Novichok, a class of Soviet-era chemical weapons. Mr. Navalny, who is now in prison and whose organization has been outlawed as “extremist,” published a new investigation Thursday charging that Russian officials had falsified medical reports in his case and demanding a criminal probe.
In the case of Mr. Bykov, Bellingcat says if the poison were the same, it would have hit him after he got dressed on the morning of April 16 and went to the airport. This appears to be yet another attempted murder by Russia’s security services, who report to Mr. Putin, and a blatant violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty Russia signed and ratified. It shows how Mr. Putin deals with his critics: He sends them killers bearing Novichok.