In 2004, Viktor Yuschenko was Ukraine’s most promising candidate to oust Leonid Kuchma, an unpopular president who served for a decade and enjoyed close ties with Russia. Yuschenko won the election later that year, but at a steep cost: he’d been poisoned with a near-fatal amount of dioxin, which left him disfigured and seriously ill. In the aftermath, Ukraine’s highest prosecutor investigated whether the apparent attempt on Yuschenko’s life was the work of the Kremlin, but in the decade since, the poisoning has never been solved.
Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-K.G.B. whistleblower, was killed after drinking green tea laced with the poison polonium in November 2006, about two years later. Today, the British government published the results of a yearlong inquiry into Litvinenko’s death, concluding that he was likely killed by two Russian men who probably had the approval of Russian president Vladimir Putin and the head of the KGB.
There’s no new evidence to suggest that Russian involvement was responsible for the attack on Yuschenko, but the high-profile allegations regarding Litvinenko make it hard not to wonder. Both men were political inconveniences to Moscow, Litvinenko for his outspoken criticism of Russia after leaving the K.G.B. and fleeing to London, and Yuschenko for his strong pro-European campaign against a Kremlin-connected Ukranian president. The American press was not shy about drawing a dotted line between the two incidents at the time.
The manners of the attacks may be similar as well. According to the British report, Litvinenko was poisoned while meeting at a London bar with Andrei K. Lugovoi and Dmitri V. Kovtun, the men accused of killing him. Yuschenko first fell ill after a dinner in Kiev hosted by Vladimir Satsyuk, the head of Ukraine’s secret police under Kuchma. However, the circumstances surrounding Yuschenko’s poisoning are cloudy: medical and witness evidence indicates that he may have been poisoned earlier than that dinner, possibly on multiple occasions or with a cocktail of several poisons, the BBC reported in 2005.
Left: Viktor Yuschenko in July 2004. Right: Yuschenko four months later, after the dioxin poisoning.
Yuschenko was inaugurated as Ukranian president in 2005, after the Orange Revolution protests by citizens in favor of a fully independent, Westernized Ukraine. He served one term, and was succeeded by the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych in 2010. Though Yuschenko’s poisoning went unsolved, he has spoken on the record about his belief that he was poisoned at the Satsyuk dinner.