KGB legacy of poison politics
Doctors confirmed that dioxin poisoned Ukraine's Yushchenko.
The weekend confirmation that Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned left some analysts of Russian politics shrugging: What would an election be in Russia, or any former Soviet republic, without some KGB-style episode against a key opponent?Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The scandal-ridden Ukrainian election fits a historical - as well as latter-day - pattern of ruthless tactics brought to bear against political opponents. In 2002, for example, a warlord in Chechnya was killed by a poisoned letter.
"This case of poisoning Yushchenko is not an isolated one at all," says Andrei Piontkovsky, head of the Center for Strategic Studies in Moscow. "This practice was routine for the KGB in Soviet times, and I don't think their successors have higher moral standards."
Mr. Yushchenko Sunday checked out of a clinic in Vienna after doctors confirmed that dioxin poisoning was responsible for severe facial scarring and skin discoloration.
Yushchenko has long claimed that the condition was the result of an assassination attempt.
Ukrainian authorities on Saturday reopened a criminal investigation into the poisoning, which had been closed by the former prosecutor Gennady Vasilyev for lack of evidence.
Although dioxins are a common industrial pollutant, doctors said Yushchenko had 1,000 times the normal concentration in his system, leading to conclusions of foul play.
"We suspect involvement of an external party, but we cannot answer as to who cooked what or who was with him when he ate," Dr. Michael Zimpfer told reporters in Vienna Saturday.
Whether by coincidence or not, Mr. Yushchenko fell ill soon after dining on Sept. 5 with the head of Ukraine's SBU secret service, Gen. Igor Smeshko. Officials and Ukraine's state-run media had scoffed at Yushchenko's claims of poisoning, pointing instead to his love of sushi and high living as the probable cause.
Speculation Sunday centered on who may have been responsible - cronies of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, or even Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), successor to the KGB. Both were seen as eager to engineer victory for Moscow's clear choice in the election, prime minister Viktor Yanukovich.
Sunday, Yushchenko said he was "very happy to be alive in this world today."
Dioxins are byproduct chemicals created by factories that use chlorine, such as those that make pesticide and plastics. A stronger dose could have been lethal to the large Ukrainian politician. Doctors say he may need two years or more to fully recover.
It was not clear how the incident would affect the vote, which Yushchenko is expected to win. But the West-leaning candidate said the political transformation that he has helped engineer has had no parallel in Ukraine for a century. "I think it would be appropriate to compare this to the fall of the Soviet Union or the fall of the Berlin Wall," Yushchenko said.
Whoever wins the Dec. 26 Ukraine election will inherit an ossified political system that is still locked in a Soviet-style political environment and has often used violence to deal with opponents.