Under Investigation Vladimir Putin’s secret campaign of terror at home and abroad
But it seems the Russian President’s power relies heavily on a secret campaign of terror at home and abroad – threatening his enemies with deadly chemical weapons.
On Under Investigation, a panel of experts explores Vladimir Putin’s 20-year secret war that includes his chemical attack on the British town of Salisbury.
RUSSIA’S CHEMICAL WEAPON
Putin’s current chemical weapon of choice is the deadliest poison on earth, Novichok.
Novichok is an intensely powerful nerve agent, which kills by shutting down the central nervous system, causing an agonising death. A tiny amount could claim a million victims.
“It’s a sophisticated chemical, probably the deadliest chemical man has ever made,” Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, an internationally-renowned chemical weapons expert, told the Under Investigation panel.
Novichok was developed in secret by Russia and was designed to be virtually undetectable by Western experts and inspectors.
“It gives the Russians an advantage over the West,” says de Bretton-Gordon.
THE SALISBURY POISONING
In 2018, Vladimir Putin exposed his ruthlessness when a quiet English community became the new frontline in his chemical war.
On March 4 that year, two Russian secret service agents travelled to Salisbury in the UK to murder ex-KGB spy Sergei Skripal with Novichok.
Skripal had been a double agent for Britain’s MI6. He was arrested, imprisoned, then allowed to leave Russia and settle in Salisbury as part of a spy swap. But Putin never forgave him for his betrayal.
A tiny amount of Novichok was sprayed on the door handle of Skripal’s house from a perfume bottle.
Just those few sprays turned the town of Salisbury into a chemical warzone, with Skripal unwittingly spreading Novichok across the city before he and his daughter Yulia collapsed in a public park. Miraculously they were saved by immediate medical intervention and a swift analysis of the poison as Novichok by the nearby UK Defence research centre Porton Down.
Chemical weapons expert Colonel de Bretton-Gordon is a Salisbury resident and lived through the attack on his home city.
“It’s almost the Russians sort of going, ‘you don’t know for sure it’s us, but this is our marker and we can do whatever we want, wherever we like’,” he said.
An innocent woman, Dawn Sturgess, was killed by Novichok at Salisbury. She sprayed herself with the contaminated perfume bottle, her partner having found it and having no idea it had been discarded by Putin’s hit team.
Others in Salisbury survived exposure to the poison but still suffered terribly.
“It took us 18 months to decontaminate Salisbury for a quarter of an egg cup of this stuff. I think it took 13,000 hours, 37 vehicles were buried or destroyed, and tons and tons of rubble were taken away and buried or burned,” de Bretton-Gordon said.
RUSSIA’S POISONOUS HISTORY
While the Novichok attack on Salisbury in 2018 seemed a terrifying wake-up call for Western countries that a chemical attack could happen on their territory, in reality, one already had 12 years before.
In 2006, an ex-KGB spy living in London, Alexander Litvinenko, met two Russians posing as businessmen.
The pair were actually agents for the GRU, Russia’s Military Intelligence service. They slipped a tiny amount of the deadly radioactive poison Polonium 210 into Litvinenko’s tea and he died after 23 days of suffering.
The Russian Secret Service agents, Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi, left a trail of radioactive polonium across London from the moment they stepped off their flight from Moscow, further proving their guilt.
But far from being punished, Lugovoi became a member of Russia’s parliament, which many saw as his payoff for services to Putin’s regime.
“That embrace of the poisoner by the Russian state is compelling evidence that it had support at the highest levels,” says Dr Robert Horvath, who has spent decades researching the struggle for democracy in Russia.
PUTIN’S NUMBER ONE ENEMY
In August last year, the hugely popular Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has been described as “the man Vladimir Putin fears most” was targeted by Russia’s secret service and poisoned with Novichok.
“When there’s an attempt to murder someone of Navalny’s stature, it sends a message to everyone about what the regime will tolerate,” Dr Horvath said.
Navalny survived after months of intensive medical care in Germany, and returned to Russia, where he has been arrested and imprisoned, fuelling massive and ongoing protests.
The Novichok attack on Navalny has laid bare the brutality of Putin’s regime and his willingness to use banned chemical weapons at home and abroad.
“We now have compelling evidence that at the highest levels of the Russian state, the use of chemical weapons was authorised,” Dr Horvath said.
PUTIN’S DEADLY POLITICS
For as long as he’s been in power, Vladimir Putin has proven to be both ruthless and dangerous.
In the past 20 years, his regime has poisoned its enemies at home and abroad and now many countries are saying enough is enough.
“We’ve all agreed internationally, these horrendous weapons should be banned. Someone has now used them and in my mind, Russia had both the motive and the means to do this,” chemical weapons disarmament expert Dr Trevor Findlay said.
The attempted murders of Sergei Skripal in 2018 and Alexei Navalny last year using a deadly chemical weapon, have raised the fears that any Western country giving safe haven to an enemy of Putin could be vulnerable to a Novichok attack.