Pussy Riot Member Verzilov, Poisoned? Botulin Toxin; A Gareth Williams Clue

(Independent) Pussy Riot activist seriously ill in Moscow hospital’s toxicology department after suspected poisoning. Quoting,

Ms Nikulshina, said that Mr Verzilov woke up and realised that he was losing his sight. …“First it was his vision, then his ability to speak, and then his ability to walk,” she told Meduza.

“Descending paralysis”, starting near the brain and descending over a short time to the legs, is symptomatic of one poison in particular, botulin toxin, which causes a well known form of food poisoning most commonly caused by improperly canned foods.

Was Pyotr Verzilov actually poisoned by the state? Unlike the Salisbury poisonings, forensic evidence will never be obtained. It is my inclination to think that he  probably was. The symptoms should be enough to alert MI-5 with respect to the death of Gareth Williams in 2010. In retrospect, one cause of the ambiguous conclusion was the lack of toxicology evidence. Quoting Wikipedia,

In September and October 2015, Boris Karpichkov, a former KGB agent who defected from Russia and who now lives in Britain, stated during interviews that “sources in Russia” have claimed that the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, also known as the SVR, was responsible for Williams’s murder. According to Karpichkov, the SVR tried and failed to blackmail Williams into becoming a double agent.[36]

In response to the SVR’s attempts, Williams apparently claimed that he knew “the identity of a Russian spy inside the GCHQ.” Karpichkov claimed that Williams’s threat meant that “the SVR then had no alternative but to exterminate him in order to protect their agent inside GCHQ.” Regarding the cause of death, Karpichkov claimed that the SVR killed Williams “by an untraceable poison introduced in his ear.”[37][36]

Botulin toxin is the most poisonous substance known, about 1,000,000 times more potent than Novichok. It acts too slowly to be an optimal chemical warfare agent.  It is not undetectable in patients who have suffered food poisoning, but in the quantity required to cause death via the ear, it probably is.

(New Yorker) A Pussy Riot Activist Is the Victim of the Latest Apparent Poisoning in Russia offers good background as to why Verzilov, hardly a professional politician, would be a target. With the help of a sympathetic judiciary, he defied the security forces. If Verzilov has been poisoned, an occasionally independent judiciary complicates the question of what Russian authorities are ultimately responsible for the decision to poison him.

If there is anything positive about this, it’s the opportunity to take another look at power in Russia. We all want to know if Putin has a pad of Rx forms in his desk drawer, with check boxes for the type of poison. Do mutants of the NKVD troikas, which in the early Soviet Union  issued instant death sentences, survive in modern Russia? It would be a waste to leave this on the level of the tawdry and sensational. So let’s proceed.

There has been a tendency to personify Russia in Vladimir Putin, while in fact, Putin is a product of Russia, where multiple clans compete. While the Russian judiciary is rarely independent, the very fact that it was in the case of Verzilov should strengthen our appreciation of the complexities.  Putin is blamed for incidents such as these, because it is conveniently simple,  it is not contradicted by open-source, and he is the most powerful individual in Russia.

Putin  collaborates with the system he leads. His ludicrous statement reported in (Telegraph) Vladimir Putin says Salisbury poison suspects are Russian ‘civilians’ and hopes they will ‘tell their story’ is the most recent example.  Putin cannot disavow the actions of the clans. To do so would erode the myth of power.

In Iran/MEK Bomb Plot; Assassinations; Russia Comparison, I wrote

As with the recent misadventure of Russian mercenaries in Syria (Newsweek: ‘A Total F***up’: Russian Mercenaries in Syria Lament U.S. Strike That Killed Dozens), and the Litvinenko hit, this implies  multiple entities, not inherited from the Soviet Union, with varying degrees of competence, which may not be in complete  control of the Kremlin.

This analysis lacks  the benefit of clandestine signals intelligence, which may tip the scales. But even the statements of MI-5,  asserting that the  Skripal poisoning had high level state approval, don’t take it all the way to Putin. In open source, it remains an open question. The troikas may exist.

But if the ultimate responsibility does not go all the way to the top, it implies that Russia is  more dangerous than when we imagined that Vladimir Putin was supremely powerful. We are dealing with a state that shares a characteristic of a non-state actor: the absence of a rational supreme authority that shares core values of decency.

I feel sorry for Sergei Lavrov, whose job is conducting diplomacy under these conditions. (Reuters) Moscow ready to make steps to improve Russia-U.S. ties: Lavrov.

Sergei, you have a hopeless job. All these poisonings are enough for us to seal the borders to Russians with Super-Glue.

 

 

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