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Sickened Russian Opposition Leader Blames Poison Ordered By Russian Special Services

Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza says he was poisoned twice; he blames the Kremlin.
Ariel Zambelich
Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza says he was poisoned twice; he blames the Kremlin.

An outspoken Russian opposition figure sickened by two mysterious illnesses is now blaming the Russian government for poisoning him.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, who fell into a coma last month after a past sickness he blamed on poison, told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly in an interview on Friday that it is an unusual toxin and he is convinced it could only have come from one place.

"Given the sophisticated type of poison, I think it's people who have been or are connected with the Russian special services," he said.

The full interview is scheduled to air on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday.

Kara-Murza says he fell ill on Feb. 2, while in Moscow. He was rushed to the hospital, where he says he was in a coma for 10 days, kept alive by artificial respiration.

"All my major life organs just began shutting down one after another," says Kara-Murza. "So it was the lungs, the kidneys, the liver, the heart just stopping."

He has since returned to the U.S. for treatment. He is speaking out now about what he calls the attack by Russia's government at a time when President Trump has called for a closer relationship between Washington and Moscow — and is under investigation for his own ties to Putin.

Kara-Murza described to Kelly how one way he had concluded Russia's spy services were targeting him was how similar his recent onset of sickness felt to the first one, which occurred in 2015. This time, he says, it was more severe.

"This time I was really struggling to breathe," he said. "That's really — I can tell you — that's really, not just painful, but really scary."

What convinces Kara-Murza that he was, in fact, poisoned?

"First of all, that's the official diagnosis from my discharge papers, from the Russian hospital — 'Toxic action by an unidentified substance,' " he tells NPR.

Samples of Kara-Murza's blood, hair and fingernails have been sent to toxicology labs in France, Israel and the U.S. for analysis, Kara-Murza says. Results are not back yet.

Kara-Murza, whose group, Open Russia, supports democratic reforms inside the authoritarian system dominated by Putin, is only the most recent Kremlin opponent to come under an unusual or deadly attack. His friend Boris Nemtsov, Russia's former deputy prime minister, was shot and killed two years ago.

A Russian banker, Alexander Perepilichny, fell dead in England in 2012 after having exposed tax fraud involving the Russian government and organized crime. An ex-KGB officer, Alexander Litvinenko, died in 2006 after drinking what investigators concluded was tea laced with radioactive polonium-210. And many other foes of the Kremlin, including political figures and journalists, have met with violent ends.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: March 4, 2017 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier version of the headline for this story stated that Kara-Murza blamed the Kremlin for ordering his poisoning. In fact, as he is quoted as saying in the story, he believes he was poisoned by people who have been or are connected with the Russian special services.
Phil Ewing