Putin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza in coma after being ‘poisoned with mystery substance’, wife says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2017, 10:08am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2017, 11:04pm

A prominent Kremlin critic and Russian opposition figure who has been in a coma since last week has been diagnosed with “acute poisoning by an undefined substance”, his wife has said.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, 35, who works for Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia foundation, had been in Russia to screen a documentary film about his friend Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader and former deputy prime minister who was gunned down near the Kremlin in 2015.

Kara-Murza was about to fly back to the US for his daughter’s eighth birthday when he woke up at 5am on Thursday with an accelerated heartbeat and difficulty breathing. He remained in a stable but critical condition on Tuesday in a medically induced coma, his wife, Yevgeniya, said.

Kara-Murza was taken to the same hospital in 2015, when he was diagnosed with acute kidney failure in connection with poisoning and only just survived. He later said it had been an attempt to kill him for his political activities. The symptoms were the same in this latest attempt on his life, his wife said.

The family has sent blood samples to laboratories in France and Israel in an attempt to identify the poison, which they were unable to do last time.

On Tuesday she said Donald Trump, who said in an interview this weekend that he respected Vladimir Putin, should realise that a true leader would not allow people to be “poisoned because of their beliefs”.

Watch: this video, originally posted by Chechen leader and Kremlin ally Ramzan Kadyrov in 2016, literally put Vladimir Kara-Murza and Parnas party leader Mikhail Kasyanov in the crosshairs.

When Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said during the interview that “Putin’s a killer”, Trump defended the Russian leader: “We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”

“President Trump should realise that Putin is not a friend; he is a killer,” she said. “Putin is a killer and should be dealt with accordingly.”

The Kara-Murzas live in the US with their three young children, but he frequently returns to Russia. Together with Nemtsov, he helped organise street protests against Putin and co-authored a 2013 report about corruption in preparations for the president’s prized Sochi Olympics.

Kara-Murza had shown the documentary in several Russian cities and was preparing to release it online, his wife said, adding that her husband had decided to continue with his activism despite the 2015 poisoning, after which tests found high levels of heavy metals in his blood.

He asked Russia’s Investigative Committee to probe whether he had suffered intentional poisoning but no criminal case was opened.

“He still believed his presence in Russia was more useful because he continued with his documentary,” Yevgeniya said. “If he can get back to normal, which we pray for, we’ll see what now, because his documentary is done. It’s going to be his choice but I know [his work] will still be connected to Russia.”

Kara-Murza’s father last week told the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily that his son’s latest collapse could be a result of the earlier incident.

“It’s just that the poisoning two years ago didn’t pass without a trace. My son’s health is weakened,” said Kara-Murza’s father, who is also called Vladimir.

Kara-Murza’s recent hospitalisation drew the attention of hawkish US senators who used it to warn new President Donald Trump against getting too cosy with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In 2016 Chechen strongman and Kremlin loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov prompted outrage by posting a video on Instagram of Kara-Murza and Parnas party leader Mikhail Kasyanov in the cross hairs of a sniper scope.

Kara-Murza is not the first Putin critic to have been poisoned. Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died in London in 2006 after drinking tea that was found to be laced with polonium-210, a the radioactive substance.

An inquiry last year said two Russian agents had murdered Litvinenko and that the hit was “probably approved” by Putin.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse