A new investigation has suggested the same hit teams that poisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny with Novichok also tailed another Putin critic, the poet and writer Dmitry Bykov, before he suffered a near fatal illness in April 2019.
Mr Bykov, now 53, went into a coma after falling ill aboard a flight from Yekaterinburg to Ufa, cities in Russia’s Urals rust belt. He was transferred to Moscow at the insistence of friends and colleagues, regaining consciousness five days later.
At the time, he said emergency doctors had told him he was poisoned, without ever explaining the nature of what may have caused it.
The joint report by Bellingcat and Insider triangulated passenger data obtained during their probes into other apparent poisonings.
It suggests employees of the FSB, Russia’s security agency, followed Mr Bykov for at least a year before he was poisoned. It links the public intellectual’s movements with plane and train trips made by members of clandestine FSB units. And it identifies two alleged assassins, Vladimir Panyayev, who flew under his own name, and Valery Sukharev, under the cover identity Nikolai Gorokhov.
Both men flew to the Siberian capital Novosibirsk on 12 April, a few hours before the arrival of Mr Bykov, who was travelling to give a lecture. The investigation surmises they applied poison to his clothes on 13 April, with the writer travelling to Yekaterinburg early the next morning.
Dmitry Bykov is a prominent public intellectual and outspoken Putin critic perhaps best known for a cycle of acerbic satirical ditties produced over 2010-2012 under the banner of "Citizen Poet”.
These poems regularly poked fun at Russia’s leaders — but they stopped short of anything more aggressive. Mr Bykov is not an opposition politician in any serious sense.
In a conversation relayed in the Bellingcat-Insider investigation, the poet says he did not understand the motives of those who might have poisoned him.
"The motives of the Kremlin are not knowable," he said. "[Perhaps] I was next on the list."
The Kremlin have strenuously denied any allegations that it has assassinated critics, and dismissed claims about its involvement in the poisoning of Navalny as provocation