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Pussy Riot activist may have been poisoned

Other | Monday 24th September 2018 | Jake

Vladimir Putin basked in the praise as the world’s eyes were fully docused on Russia for a month, all watching the FIFA World Cup. The competition’s build-up had been marred by accusations of bribery and doping, all while stories of racism, homophobia, sexism and violence in the host nation were widely reported by the foreign press.

By the competition's end, Putin and Russia had passed the test and, as the final was winding down, legions of the press and Russian officials would have reflected on a job well done and a highly successful World Cup.

Hardly a single controversial incident of note took place away from the football pitch. No protests, and fans returned to their respective countries with only kind words for their Russian hosts. However, as the last game of the tournament played between France and Croatia petered out with France sailing towards a second World Cup triumph, pitch invaders clad in police uniform stormed the pitch.

The party-poopers belonged to the anti-Putin, punk group Pussy Riot. Their protest intended to highlight the plight of political prisoners, the persecution of people airing political views on the internet, and to promote the fight for a more open democracy. They were all jailed for 15 days, a relative slap on the wrist for dissidence in Putin’s Russia.

However, one of the pitch invaders, Pyotr Verzilov, is believed to have been poisoned. Falling ill after a court hearing in Moscow on 11th September, Verzilov allegedly lost his vision, speech and ability to walk all in swift succession. He was flown to a hospital in Berlin and doctors there believe it is “highly probable” Verzilov was poisoned.

Putin has long been accused of intimidating and eliminating his political opponents through the actions of the Russian intelligence and security service the GRU, much in the same way that many South American nations view the actions of the CIA. Most recently, many news outlets and Western governments have alleged the GRU's full involvement in the ongoing Novichok nerve agent saga of Sailsbury.

Verzilov is currently still recovering in the German capital.

The incident serves as a notice to those outside Russia that, despite the PR victory the World Cup represented for him, Putin still has many critics, all of whom highlight an abhorrent human rights record and the routine occurence of his doubters and rivals, at home or aborad, suddenly finding themselves in hospital or worse.

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