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Explained: Why report on Nikolai Glushkov’s death has put focus again on poisoning of Putin critics

The news of Glushkov’s death came just over a week after the attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent who was administered a nerve agent in the UK in 2018.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: April 11, 2021 12:38:09 pm
Nikolai Glushkov, Vladimir PutinNikolai Glushkov was an exiled businessman who was living in London after seeking political asylum in 2010. According to the Independent, Glushkov gained notoriety in the 1990s when Russia was trying to transition into a market economy. (File Photo: AP)

The West London Coroner’s Court has ruled that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s critic Nikolai Glushkov who was found dead in March 2018 in London was strangled in his home by a third party.

The news of Glushkov’s death came just over a week after the attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent who was administered a nerve agent in the UK in 2018. His poisoning is the subject of the BBC One drama titled, “The Salisbury Poisonings”.

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Who was Nikolai Glushkov?

Glushkov was an exiled businessman who was living in London after seeking political asylum in 2010. According to the Independent, Glushkov gained notoriety in the 1990s when Russia was trying to transition into a market economy.

He was also a close friend of Boris Berezovsky, also a Putin critic who was found hanging at his home in Berkshire in 2013. Berezovsky was also a friend of Alexander Litvinenko, a former spy who was killed in November 2006 after he ingested a fatal dose of polonium 210 while drinking tea at Millenium Hotel in London. At the time he was meeting with Russian politician Andrei Lugovoy and his associate Dmitri Kovtun.

As per an Independent report, Glushkov worked for Berezovsky’s car company LogoVaz and in the late 1990s became the first deputy director general for Russia’s national airlines Aeroflot. In 1999, both of them were accused of stealing millions of dollars from the airline. As per the BBC, Glushkov was sentenced to eight years by a Russian court in 2017 in connection with the stolen airline money.

The report also said that in the Coroner’s Court, Senior coroner Chinyere Inyama ruled that Glushkov was “unlawfully killed”.

State of dissent in Russia

Russia has long been known to use poison as a way of eliminating political dissidents and spies. The alleged poisonings by Russia include that of Skripal, Pyotr Verzilov (anti-Kremlin activist and Putin critic), Vladimir Kara-Murza (Putin critic and journalist), Alexander Litvinenko (former spy paid by the MI6 for investigating Spanish links to Russia) and Viktor Yushchenko (Ukrainian politician). An article published by the Atlantic Council, a think tank, says many victims of Putin’s assassins “serve as useful symbols of what happens to anyone accused of betraying or otherwise cheating the Kremlin.”

Among Putin’s most well known opponents include lawyer turned anti-corruption activist and Opposition leader Alexei Navalny who was poisoned in August 2020. Navalny has maintained that the poisoning was carried out by the Russian authorities who have denied any involvement in the attack.

Significantly, at least two prominent protests have happened since the July 2020 referendum. The first of these protests happened soon after the referendum, in Russia’s far-east. In July, more than 10,000 people joined the protests in the region’s Khabarovsk city demanding the release of popular regional governor Sergei I. Frugal who was arrested on July 9, 2020 on suspicion of multiple murders that happened between 2004-2005. When Furgal came to power in 2018, he defeated longtime incumbent Vyacheslav Shport, a member of the United Russia Party that backs Putin. Therefore, Frugal’s victory was seen as a sign of rising anti-establishment sentiment in the region.

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This year, Navalny called for nationwide protests after he was arrested on his arrival to Moscow from Germany post his recovery from the poisoning. Navalny was further remanded in pre-trial detention for 30 days in January this year despite demands by the US and some European countries to release him. By the end of January, about 800 protestors participating in the so-called pro-Navalny protests demanding he be released, had been detained by the authorities, including Navalny’s wife and close aides. The police maintained at the time that the rallies were illegal.

A month before these protests, Putin had alleged that Navalny relied on the “support of US special services.” Previously, Putin has even told journalists jokingly that if Russian operatives wanted to kill Navalny, “they would have probably finished the job.”

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