The Russia connectionName Your Poison: Some of the Exotic Toxins Which Fell Kremlin Foes

Published 25 August 2020

The poisoning last Thursday by Kremlin operatives of Alexey Navalny, one of the leaders of the Russian opposition (he is now fighting for his life in a German hospital) is reminiscent of dozens of other such poisonings of opponents and critics of the Russian (and, before that, Soviet) regimes. Poisoning has been the Russian secret services’ preferred method of dealing with irritating critics, and these services have at their disposal a large and sophisticated laboratory — alternatively known as Laboratory 1, Laboratory 12, and Kamera (which means “The Cell” in Russian) – where ever more exotic toxins are being developed for use against regime opponents and critics.

Editor’s note: Two years ago, on 12 September 2018, Pyotr Verzilov, the then-31-year old husband of Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, suddenly fell severely ill after eating lunch at the cafeteria at the Moscow Basmanny Court, where he was interviewing two officials about the investigations into the July 2018 killing of 3 Russian journalists in the Central African Republic.

The Russian state media blamed local Islamist militants, but an independent investigation has later found that Yevgeny Prigozhin, “Putin’s Chef” (he has big Kremlin catering contracts) and the owner of the mercenary militia Wagner Group, on Putin’s orders, instructed Wagner soldiers to kill the three journalists (they were in the CAR to investigate human rights abuses by Wagner soldiers) (see “The CAR Murders: A Critical Cold Case in the New Cold War Points to “Putin’s Chef.” HSNW, 23 September 2019).*

Verzilov was flown to Berlin Charité hospital – where Alexey Navalny is now being treated – and after a series of tests his doctors announced that he was poisoned with an “anticholinergic agent,” the same poison Kremlin operatives used in their attempt on Navalny’s life.

on 4 March 2018, six months before FSB agents poisoned Verzilov, they poisoned Russian defector Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the picturesque British town of Salisbury. The Skripals were poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent which belongs in the family of cholinesterase inhibitors. The posioning of Skripla father and daughter, Verizlov, and Navalny thus indicates that cholinesterase inhibitors have now become the FSB’s poison of choice.

On 20 September 2018 we ran this article on the exotic toxins the Russian secret services have used over the years against regime critics.


The suspected poisoning of anti-Kremlin activist Pyotr Verzilov in Moscow — just a few months after nerve-agent poisonings in Britain that led to one death and left three others severely ill — conjures up memories of other Kremlin foes who have fallen victim to toxic attacks in the Vladimir Putin era and previously.

Doctors in Berlin, where Russian-Canadian Verzilov was flown on September 15 after falling seriously ill days earlier, said it was “highly plausible” that he was poisoned.

A longtime opponent of Russian President Putin as a member of the punk protest band Pussy Riot and dissident art troupe Voina, Verzilov’s doctors in Germany said on September 18 that something disrupted the nerves that regulate his internal organs.

Verzilov’s case comes just months after former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found  [on 4 March 2018] unconscious in a park in the English city of Salisbury.

A British public inquiry found that the Skripals had been poisoned with the deadly nerve agent Novichok and alleged that the attack was carried out by Russian state agents, later identified as two men traveling under the names Aleksandr Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.