How Vladimir Putin has disposed of his enemies – including poisonings and plane crashes

Vladimir Putin has been Russia’s longest serving president since Joseph Stalin – and the Kremlin has disposed of its political critics, treacherous spies and investigative journalists in a number of ways.

The attacks range from poisoning by drinking polonium-laced tea or touching a deadly nerve agent, to getting shot at close range, while others have plunged to their deaths from an open window. In August 2023, global news outlets went wild when the former head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, perished in plane accident after he attempted to stage a brief coup against the Kremlin. The aircraft plummeted into a field from tens of thousands of feet after breaking apart.

The attacks range from poisoning by drinking polonium-laced tea or touching a deadly nerve agent, to getting shot at close range – while others have plunged to their deaths from an open window.

Vladimir Putin has been Russia’s longest serving president since Joseph Stalin (

Image: Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

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Vladimir Putin has been Russia’s longest serving president since Joseph Stalin – and the Kremlin has disposed of its political critics, treacherous spies and investigative journalists in a number of ways.

The attacks range from poisoning by drinking polonium-laced tea or touching a deadly nerve agent, to getting shot at close range, while others have plunged to their deaths from an open window. In August 2023, global news outlets went wild when the former head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, perished in plane accident after he attempted to stage a brief coup against the Kremlin. The aircraft plummeted into a field from tens of thousands of feet after breaking apart.

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Assassination attempts against foes of President Putin have been common during his nearly quarter century in power. Those close to the victims and the few survivors have blamed Russian authorities, but the Kremlin has routinely denied involvement in these deaths – adding to the mystery and deadly power of the Kremlin’s reach.

There also have been reports of prominent Russian executives dying under mysterious circumstances, including falling from windows, although whether they were deliberate killings or suicides is sometimes difficult to determine. Here we look at prominent cases of the fallen, or their attempted killings.

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Russia’s opposition supporters march in memory of murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov in central Moscow ( 

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Action against political opponents

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been behind bars in Russia since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. Before his arrest, Navalny campaigned against official corruption and organized major anti-Kremlin protests. He has since received three prison terms and spent months in isolation in Penal Colony No. 6 for alleged minor infractions. He has rejected all charges against him as politically motivated.

Vladimir Kara-Murza is a prominent opposition activist who twice survived poisonings in 2015 and 2017 that he blamed on the Kremlin. Last year he was jailed for a quarter of a century for criticising tyrant Putin’s war in Ukraine. The charges against Kara-Murza stem from his March 15 speech to the Arizona House of Representatives in which he denounced Russia’s military action in Ukraine. Investigators added the treason charges while he was in custody.

Boris Nemtsov, the leader of the Russian opposition was shot dead in front of the Kremlin seven years ago. Nemtsov, then one of Russia’s most outspoken critics of Putin, had at the time of his death been organising opposition rallies against Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine. He became deputy PM and was once touted as a possible presidential candidate – but it was Putin who took over from former president Boris Yeltsin in 2000.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been behind bars in Russia since January 2021 ( 

Image: Moscow City Court press service/)

Death of former intelligence operatives and spies

Alexander Litvinenko was aRussian spy who died in 2006 after he was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 while drinking tea at London’s Millennium Hotel. He had been investigating the shooting death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya as well as the Russian intelligence service’s alleged links to organized crime. He had fled to Britain in 2000 after being arrested in his home country for exceeding the authority of his position.

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Another former Russian intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, was poisoned in Britain in 2018. He and his adult daughter Yulia fell ill in the city of Salisbury and spent weeks in critical condition. They survived, but the attack later claimed the life of a British woman and left a man and a police officer seriously ill. Authorities said they both were poisoned with the military grade nerve agent Novichok. Britain blamed Russian intelligence, but Moscow denied any role.

Wiping out journalists

Journalists that have been critical of authorities in Russia have either been killed or suffered mysterious deaths, which their colleagues in some cases blamed on someone in the political hierarchy. In other cases, the reported reluctance by authorities to investigate raised suspicions.

Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot and killed in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006 – Putin’s birthday – after she won international acclaim for uncovering human rights abuses in Chechnya. The gunman, from Chechnya, was convicted of the killing and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Four other Chechens were given shorter prison terms for their involvement in the murder.

Meanwhile Yuri Shchekochikhin, another Novaya Gazeta reporter, died of a sudden and violent illness in 2003. He was investigating corrupt business deals and the possible role of Russian security services in the 1999 apartment house bombings, which at the time were blamed on Chechen insurgents. His colleagues claimed he was poisoned and accused the authorities of deliberately hindering the investigation.

Journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot and killed in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006 ( 

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The death of Yevgeny Prigozhin

Yevgeny Prigozhin and top lieutenants of his Wagner private military company died in a plane crash in August of last year – two months to the day after he launched an armed rebellion that Putin branded “a stab in the back” and “treason.”

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In a televised address from his offices, Putin said his ex-pal was a “man of difficult fate” and that he “made serious mistakes in life”. He went on to detail how Prigozhin worked in Russia and Africa, claiming that he was “engaged in oil, gas, precious metals and stones there”, but without mentioning how his shadow army was accused of atrocities on the continent. He added that Prigozhin “also sought to achieve the necessary results – both for himself and at time when I asked him to, for the common cause, such as in these recent months”.

But a preliminary intelligence assessment found that the crash that killed all 10 people aboard was intentionally caused by an explosion, according to U.S. and Western officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment. One said the explosion fell in line with Putin’s “long history of trying to silence his critics.”

Dmitry Peskov, denied allegations the Kremlin was behind the crash, telling reporters: “Of course, in the West those speculations are put out under a certain angle, and all of it is a complete lie.” Former Kremlin speechwriter turned political analyst, Abbas Gallyamov, said: “Putin has demonstrated that if you fail to obey him without question, he will dispose of you without mercy, like an enemy, even if you are formally a patriot.”

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