Alexei Navalny poisoning – Was Putin’s Salisbury’s GRU squad behind suspected hit on Russian leader’s biggest enemy?

ALEXEI Navalny’s alleged poisoning today has sparked fears Putin’s Salisbury GRU squad could have struck again.

The top Kremlin critic was rushed to hospital today after being taken ill on a plane, where witnesses say he collapsed screaming in agony.

He is now in a coma on a ventilator in intensive care in the Siberian city of Omsk, fighting for his life.

And those close to him say they suspect his tea was poisoned – sparking fears Vlad’s hitmen could have struck again.

The president’s GRU death squad was thrust into the public eye after the 2018 Salisbury novichok attack.

Ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 67, and his 34-year-old daughter Yulia escaped with their lives after the deadly nerve agent was smeared on his front door.

The failed assassins were later named as Russian agents Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Borishov.

The pair had by this stage fled back to Russia and have not been brought to justice.


They claimed to have been visiting Salisbury as tourists in a bizarre interview on Russian TV – but were unmasked by Brit investigators as members of the mysterious "Unit 29155" of the GRU military intelligence.

The hit squad is made up of decorated veterans of Russia’s bloodiest wars, including in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Ukraine, the New York Times reported.

Brit spooks identified 15 members of Unit 29155 which at one point used eastern France as a base to carry out assassinations and sabotage across Europe, it’s claimed.

They also reportedly attempted to assassinate arms dealer Emilian Gebrev in Bulgaria twice, as well as launching unsuccessful operations to destabilise Moldova and stage a coup in Montenegro.

A retired GRU officer with knowledge of the unit told the New York Times the killers can work "in groups or individually" to conduct "bombings, murders … anything".

The unit is believed to have operated for over a decade.

But the history of Kremlin critics being poisoned or dying in unsolved “crimes” or mysterious circumstances goes back far longer.

And slipping victims poison – especially into their tea – has emerged as a common tactic, with doctors reportedly saying today that Navalny absorbed the toxins faster through the hot liquid.

Journalist and prominent Putin hater Anna Politkovskaya became violently ill and lost consciousness in 2004 after drinking tea on an Aeroflot flight.

She survived the alleged poisoning – only to be shot dead while holding bags of groceries in the lift of her Moscow flats in 2006.

The killing happened on Putin’s birthday.

That same year, in London, ex-spy turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko drank tea laced with radioactive polonium-210.


He died an agonising death three weeks after his drink was spiked, pointing the finger at the Russian president from his death bed.

Brit cops named Russian agents Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun as suspects, but they – like the Salisbury assassins – had by this point fled back to Russia and never faced justice.

Lugovoy is now an MP in the Russian parliament.

Brit cops sent to Russia to investigate the pair were then struck down with a mysterious stomach bug after being offered tea by their hosts.

In 2004, anti-Russian Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko barely survived a soup tainted with TCCD, an ingredient in Agent Orange 170,000 times more poisonous than cyanide, which left his face horribly disfigured.

And in 2012, Russian exile Alexander Perepilichny dropped dead while out jogging.

Cops found no foul play but tests ordered by his insurance company claim to have found gelsemium was slipped into his soup.

The rare plant is found only in remote parts of China and is nicknamed “heartbreak grass” because its leaves trigger cardiac arrest if ingested.

The poisonings also stretch back to the Soviet days, when Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov died after being jabbed in the leg with an umbrella tipped with deadly ricin while waiting for a bus in London in 1978.

Mark Galeotti, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told FP: “One of poison’s great virtues for the politically minded murderer is its capacity to combine easy deniability and vicious theatricality.

“Even while the murderer denies any role, perhaps with a sly wink, the victim dies a horrific and often lengthy death. A message in a poison bottle.”


But the suspected killings go beyond just poisonings.

Russian exile and oligarch Boris Berezovsky, a high profile opponent of Putin, was found dead at his Berkshire home in March 2013.

A post-mortem found he was hanged but an inquest recorded an open verdict.

Before his death he had repeatedly expressed fears of a state-sponsored killing and was due to be a key witness at the inquest into the poisoning of Litvinenko, whom he helped finance.

And opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was gunned down right outside the Kremlin in February 2015.

Putin was quick to offer the family of his fierce critic his condolences and vowed to bring the killers to justice.

In June 2017, five Chechen men were found guilty by a Moscow court of agreeing to kill Nemtsov for cash, but the identities of those who hired them remains unknown.

Nemtsov was a key ally of Navalny.

In the days after his friend’s killing, he vowed to fight on and said he was “not frightened” by this “act of terror”.

But as he fights for his life in hospital, it seems he may now pay the price for his lack of fear.

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