A prominent liberal lawmaker has called on Russian authorities to properly investigate the two sudden near-fatal illnesses suffered by opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza while traveling in Russia.
The call by Lev Shlosberg, made in an interview with RFE/RL, wasn't expected to yield an immediate U-turn from Russian law enforcement, which has ignored at least two requests from Kara-Murza to open an investigation into the circumstances of his illnesses, in 2015 and 2017.
But it does keep the spotlight on the question of whether Russian security agencies have been utilizing toxins -- possibly created as part of a secret chemical-weapons program -- to target dissidents, activists, journalists, or even former intelligence agents.
Kara-Murza and his lawyer submitted a formal request to the federal Investigative Committee to open an investigation in the wake of a bombshell report that asserted a secret hit squad from the Federal Security Service (FSB) had followed and surveilled Kara-Murza while he was traveling in Russia in May 2015 and February 2017.
The report, published by investigative outfit Bellingcat, alleged that among the security agents was one linked to the poisoning of Aleksei Navalny, the opposition activist who nearly died in August 2020 in Siberia after being targeted with a substance identified by German doctors and other labs as a powerful nerve agent.
Previous reporting by RFE/RL documented declassified documents that showed the FBI considering the Kara-Murza investigation to be one of "intentional poisoning" but do not reveal whether U.S. authorities have identified the substances used to target him.
RFE/RL's reporting has also showed how Kara-Murza's mysterious illnesses have been discussed at the top levels of the White House, the State Department, and the U.S. intelligence community, including involvement on the part of FBI Director Christopher Wray.
In the interview with RFE/RL's North.Realities, Shlosberg, a lawmaker in the Pskov region and one of the best-known figures in the liberal Yabloko party, said that Russian law obligated the Investigative Committee to do one of three things: decline to initiate a criminal case; decide to conduct a pre-investigation check; or open a full-blown criminal case.
"Let them read the law. They must answer to a citizen, must answer to the lawmakers," he said in the interview published on March 5.
"This is the state machine. I am a person of the state, working for the rights and freedoms of people and citizens. If I do not receive an answer, I will inform the prosecutor's office that such and such department did not bother to give an answer to the deputy of the Legislative Assembly. Let them figure it out. For this they receive budget money, taxpayers' money," Shlosberg said.
Kara-Murza, who could not be immediately reached for comment, believes he was twice poisoned deliberately in Moscow due to his lobbying for U.S. sanctions against Russian officials allegedly involved in rights abuses.
In both of his illnesses, his Russian doctors indicated he suffered toxic effects of an "unidentified substance."
Kara-Murza sued the U.S. Justice Department and FBI seeking access to his investigative records under the Freedom of Information Act. An initial release reviewed by RFE/RL showed that the FBI sought -- and received -- permission from Kara-Murza to send blood samples to a leading U.S. government weapons-research laboratory for testing.
Those records also indicated that Wray was directly involved in the overall investigation, possibly at the behest of congressional lawmakers.
But the Justice Department continues to withhold hundreds of pages of records -- despite an agreement to give them to him amid his federal lawsuit. As reasons for this, it has variously cited national-security exemptions and an interagency review process.
And while the documents released so far suggest that U.S. authorities tested Kara-Murza's blood and urine for sophisticated poisons, to date they have provided no records or summaries related to the results of such tests.
"The demand to initiate a criminal case on the attempted murder of Kara-Murza and the attempt on Navalny's life is a struggle for the country," Shlosberg said. "Not only the search for the truth and the establishment of justice and legality in specific cases...but also the struggle for those who are now alive and may die if state violence remains unchecked."