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Speculations Rise in Stream of Russian Poisonings as Anti-Kremlin Activist Falls Ill

Russian activist Pyotr Verzilov, associated with the proclaimed protest group Pussy Riot, is speculated to be the latest victim in a series of on-going Kremlin targeted poisonings. Verzilov most recently has been publicized for his active participation in Pussy Riot’s protest at the 2018 World Cup Final match. He and three other women dressed in police attire charged the football field, in a display intended to highlight Russia’s present existence as a modern-day, Soviet-likening, “police state.” Following the notable attack earlier this year on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, many sense a return to Russia’s historical employment of fear tactics and government led suppression of dissenting individuals and anti-Kremlin opinions.

  Pyotr Verzilov; Credit: Reuters

Pyotr Verzilov; Credit: Reuters

For nearly a decade, Verzilov has been intimately involved in Pussy Riot and larger public vocalization lashing back at questionable and oppressive Kremlin activity. The latest allegations brought against Pussy Riot involved the arrest last week of Verzilov’s partner, Veronika Nikulshina, for an attested traffic violation. Nikulshina was arrested and detained for two days, and it was while waiting for Nikulshina’s release at a Moscow courthouse that the transpiring of the poisoning appears to have taken place.

After returning from Nikulshina’s discharge, Verzilov reportedly began to feel ill, losing his vision, ability to walk and speak, and eventually falling into repeated seizures within a few hours. Once initially treated at a hospital in Moscow, Nikulshina and Verzilov’s mother suspected that his illness was the result of a directed Kremlin attack, and decided to move him into the care of the Charité hospital in Berlin. Verzilov’s ex-wife and foundational Pussy Riot member, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova,  corroborated on their fears, claiming that Verzilov’s illness must be the result of an, “intimidation,” or even an, “‘assassination attempt,’” on Verzilov by the Kremlin. Purportedly, Tolokonnikova stated that Kremlin police officers would regularly monitor and check-up on Verzilov at his home, yielding a long term sense of targeting upon him by the Russian government.

  Pyotr Verzilov in transport to Berlin; Credit: Reuters

Pyotr Verzilov in transport to Berlin; Credit: Reuters

The latest updates from medical personnel at the Charité hospital state that Verzilov is no longer in a life threatening condition. However, doctors at the facility report that given Verzilov’s state, it appears, “‘highly plausible that a poisoning took place,’” and that there presently existed no other indicators towards his symptoms. Verzilov suffers from anticholinergic ailments that upset various aspects of the nervous system. While personal drug use could potentially be the cause of Verzilov’s situation, doctors say it appears highly improbable given the present circumstances.

The events surrounding Verzilov’s illness strike uncertainty and cause for concern in many as the Kremlin appears ever more inclined to implement intimidation measures at its disposal. Given his prominent stance as an activist and as a publisher for Mediazona, an outlet known for its condemnation of various Kremlin transgressions, Verzilov exists as a prominent example to be made for those who may want to decry the Russian government and its practices. While the origins of Verzilov’s falling ill still remain to be uncovered, the linkage between his political dissent and the Kremlin’s noted monitoring of such raise many questions and areas for investigation in the Russian government's plausible involvement in the events.