A Russian poet known for his outspoken prose against Vladimir Putin was trailed and targeted by the same poison squad that nearly killed Alexei Navalny, according to a new investigation by Bellingcat.
Dmitry Bykov, who has refused to meet the Russian president in person, is one of Russia’s most popular writers, poets, and journalists, often referred to as “second after Navalny” in polls about Russian opposition leaders. His satire often cuts to the heart of the corrupt side of the Russian ruling elite, which is what likely won him a death sentence much like Navalny's.
In a new investigation, Bellingcat found what it calls a “cluster” of airline and rail trips by members of Russia’s secret service force known as the FSB that coincided with the poet’s movements before he was near-fatally poisoned in 2019.
Bellingcat’s research states that the poison squad traveled to Siberia in April 2019 ahead of Bykov’s scheduled lecture tour and stayed in Novosibirsk near him on April 13, 2019, before hastily flying back to Moscow the next day.
A day later, Bykov fell ill on a flight to Ufa with symptoms suspiciously close to those Navalny suffered on his own near-fatal flight. Bykov was in a coma for five days and was treated for cerebral edema before being put on a ventilator.
Allies who suspected foul play then arranged for his transfer to Moscow, where he was revived on April 20, 2019. He left the hospital a week later, but the source of his illness was never confirmed. Bellingcat researchers then consulted chemical-weapons experts and concluded that he suffered organo-phosphate poisoning.
“The case of Dmitry Bykov’s presumed poisoning bears a striking resemblance to that of Alexey Navalny, including an extended FSB tailing period, presence of the same FSB officers near the victim shortly before the poisoning, an onset of symptoms and collapse into a coma during a flight, and an initial obstruction by authorities to the victim’s relocation to a more sophisticated medical establishment,” Bellingcat writes in its dispatch.
The revelation of another highly organized attempt to stifle opposition comes as Putin tightens the screws on media in Russia by forcing the closure of independent media organizations and pressuring the big social media giants Twitter, YouTube and TikTok to remove all anti-Russian government content. News that he also targeted a poet and journalist won’t surprise many, and will likely galvanize voices opposing him.
The alleged poisoning of Navalny was already on the agenda for the bilateral meeting in Switzerland between President Joe Biden and Putin set for June 16. It remains to be seen if the attempt on the poet will also be discussed as Biden works to reset the relationship with Russia in the post-Trump era.