Russian assassination attempts have contributed to a significant increase in the number of cases of political poisonings around the world over the last decade, according to a report.
A study examining how poisonings are used as a means of political repression globally found that the last ten years saw three times as many cases occurring on average per year compared with 70 years ago, with much of the rise attributable to Russia.
The analysis from the Global Poison Reporting Project, a database tracking instances of political poisonings, looked at 77 reported cases over the last 90 years. It concluded that Russia used poisoning as a method of assassination more frequently than any other state, and that many of the victims were targeted inside Europe.
Even earlier this month, French prosecutors opened an investigation into a suspected poisoning of Marina Ovsyannikova, the Russian journalist exiled to France after publicly criticizing President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Sophia Browder, the report’s author, was due to present the findings to policymakers in the U.K. at an event hosted by the Henry Jackson Society think tank on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, it seems like the British government has been asleep at the wheel in terms of dealing with these political poisonings,” Browder said in a statement. She added that the U.K. government “has a duty to protect dissidents, journalists, and the public,” and that such poisoning incidents should be considered a “high priority issue.”
Britain is certainly no stranger to cases of Russian political poisonings. In 2018, then-Prime Minister Theresa May accused Russia of attempting to kill Sergei Skripal—a former Russian intelligence officer living in England—and his daughter using the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. They survived, though one woman died after inadvertently coming into contact with the poison months later.
It was also in the U.K. that Putin critic and former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko died from radiation poisoning in 2006, with officials attributing his sickness to the ingestion of a radioactive isotope, polonium-210. Inquiries in both the U.K. and European Court of Human Rights concluded that Russia was responsible for his assassination.
Litvinenko’s wife, Marina, was interviewed in March as part of the report on political poisonings. She said that Russian dissidents still remain at extreme risk of being targeted. “The only advice would be to help in any way to stop this regime being active,” Marina was quoted as saying, referring to Putin’s government. “You can’t stop the poisonings without stopping the regime.” She added: “Only after this all changes, and we will not have this Russian Security service, which is more like a murder-and-killing unit than security and protection, it is difficult to say how to protect yourself.”