Russian poisoning: UK journalist was poisoned by KGB with umbrella amid new allegations

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Mr Navalny has based his political identity on being the anti-corruption figure in Russia. He fell ill during a recent flight, with the plane he was travelling in being forced to make an emergency stop in Omsk. The Russian’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said his team suspected something had been mixed into his tea.

The hospital said Mr Navalny was in a stable but serious condition.

A staunch critic of President Vladimir Putin, the 44-year-old described a June vote on constitutional reforms as a “coup” and a “violation of the constitution”.

The reforms allow Mr Putin to serve another two terms in office.

In a statement, Ms Yarmysh said: “During the flight, he felt ill. The plane made an urgent landing in Omsk. Alexei has toxic poisoning. Right now we are going to the hospital. We suspect that Alexei was poisoned by something mixed into (his) tea. It was the only thing he drank since morning.”

She added: “Doctors are saying that the toxic agent absorbed faster through the hot liquid. Right now Alexei is unconscious.”

Russia and its previous Soviet Union days have long since been accused of having used lethal agents against political opponents and dissidents.

One victim of poisoning that left an indelible mark on the UK and proved fatal was Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian dissident writer who moved to London and took up a job with the BBC.

It was during the Cold War that Mr Markov was killed with a poison-tipped umbrella.

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A staunch opponent of what he viewed as Bulgaria’s corrupt Communist leadership, Mr Markov died on September 11, 1978, after someone fired a ricin-laced pellet into his leg on London’s Waterloo Bridge.

Mr Markov, who defected to the West in 1969, was waiting for a bus to take him to Broadcasting House in Westminster.

According to accounts of the incident, Mr Markov complained of a sharp sting in his thigh, turning around to find a stranger fumbling around with an umbrella he had dropped.

The stranger mumbled “sorry” before hurrying to the other side of the road and getting into a taxi.


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Arriving at work, Mr Markov noticed a red pimple in the area that the stinging was coming from, and told at least one of his BBC colleagues about the incident.

Later that night he developed an intense fever and was admitted to St James’ Hospital in Balham, where he died four days later, aged 49.

The event has since been dubbed the “Umbrella Murder”.

No one was ever charged with Mr Markov’s murder.

However, some years later, KGB defectors Oleg Kalugin and Oleg Gordievsky reportedly confirmed that the KGB had arranged the murder at the request of the Bulgarian Secret Service, whose agent, Francesco Gullino, was given the weapon.

Documents concerning Mr Markov’s case were later destroyed.

After his death, Mr Markov’s works were withdrawn from circulation in Bulgaria, and his name was not mentioned by their media until after the fall of communism in 1989.

Mr Markov was not the first or last Soviet or Russian dissident to perish from alleged poisoning by the state.

Ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, 43, died after drinking green tea laced with polonium-210, a rare and potent radioactive isotope, at London’s Millennium Hotel in 2006.

A British inquiry into the poisoning in the same year concluded that Mr Putin had probably approved the killing.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied involvement.

An inquiry led by a senior British judge found that former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoy and another Russian, Dmitry Kovtun, carried out the killing as part of an operation that he said was probably directed by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the main heir to the Soviet-era KGB.

An outspoken critic of Mr Putin, Mr Litvinenko fled Russia for Britain six years to the day before he was poisoned.

Others including Alexander Perepilichny, a 44-year-old Russian, and Viktor Yushchenko, then a Ukrainian opposition leader in 2004, were either found dead with traces of lethal agents in their bodies or seriously debilitated and later recovered as a result of dubious circumstances.

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