At least four people over the past two years, mainly after the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine, have discovered symptoms of possible poisoning or have encountered, at least, cases of unknown people breaking into their homes, which may be connected to Russian special services. “Agentstvo” newspaper writes about this on Tuesday.
It reports, in particular, about the case of the head of the “Free Russia” foundation, Natalya Arno (Budaeva), who fell ill in early May of this year. Arno held meetings in Prague devoted to the situation in Russia and felt numbness in her body and pain in various parts of her body, the publication says with reference to two of her unnamed acquaintances. According to one of them, shortly before the symptoms appeared, Arno discovered that the door to her hotel room in Prague was open, and there was a strange smell in the room, similar to “the aroma of cheap perfume.”
The next morning, Natalya Arno flew to the USA, where she has been living for about 10 years after she was forced to leave Russia under pressure from the Kremlin, the Agency notes. There, the head of the foundation, who already has American citizenship, turned to the hospital and also to the authorities. The FBI launched an investigation. The interlocutors of the “Agency” do not know about the ego results. Arno herself refused to discuss the topic, did not deny that the incident took place.
Later, already after the release of the “Agency” material, Natalya Arno commented on the article on her Facebook page. According to her, she was not sure that she wanted to make the situation public. “But since the article has already appeared, I will comment… There is a suspicion that during my recent trip to Europe I was poisoned, perhaps by some kind of nerve agent, one (or even more than one) Western special service is investigating, I still have neuropathy symptoms, but in general I feel much better,” Nataliya Budaeva writes, among other things, noting that “Russians who had to leave Putin’s Russia… need to understand that the enemy has long claws.”
Two more “Agency” sources said that the former US ambador to Kyiv and Tashkent, John Herbst, had symptoms of poisoning a few months before the invasion of Ukraine. Now he holds the position of senior director of the Eurasian Center of the Atlantic Council.
It is noted that Hörbst is a well-known critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. An interlocutor of the “Agency” who is familiar with the diplomat says that due to the sharp deterioration of Herbst’s health, the FBI began an investigation at the same time. The ex-ambador himself refused to comment, and the Atlantic Council has not yet responded to the Agency’s request sent on Monday.
The publication, with reference to two interlocutors, mentions another case that happened this spring in Europe – with a Russian journalist who has recently been living in exile. The editors do not give her name for ethical reasons. In April, during the days when a meeting of Russian oppositionists organized by Mikhail Khodorkovsky was held in Berlin, the journalist turned to German doctors because of health problems.
She herself told the “Agency” that her symptoms “probably appeared even before the conference”, but the journalist refused to talk about their nature and subsequent treatment. Natalya Arno attended the same conference in Berlin. It was from there that she subsequently flew to the Czech capital.
“Agency” also writes about the investigative journalist, one of the leaders of Bellingcat Hristo Grozeve. But his case, as noted, is not connected with the alleged poisoning, but with the opening of his room in the hotel by unknown persons. Hackers could gain access to information in the journalist’s personal gadgets. Grozev himself confirmed that the phone was missing from his number. He refused further comments. This happened in the summer of 2022 in Montenegro, during the journalistic conference dedicated to Russia.
Bellingcat publishes investigations that often mention special services, famous politicians, and financiers. Among the most high-profile such investigations are the circumstances surrounding the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.