President Claims Kremlin Is Shielding His Would-Be Killers

KIEV, Ukraine -- The president of Ukraine has accused the Kremlin of harbouring the men he suspects of poisoning him when he ran for office five years ago.

President Viktor Yushchenko

Viktor Yushchenko, who was disfigured and nearly died, said Ukraine prosecutors wanted to question three main suspects believed to have fled to Russia. His requests for help have been repeatedly rebuffed by the Kremlin, he claimed.

“The people who organised my poisoning have been in Moscow for the past four years,” Yushchenko said. “I’ve appealed to the Russian president three times.”

Yushchenko, 55, said Vladimir Satsyuk, the former deputy head of Ukraine’s secret police, was one of the suspects after an investigation by Ukrainian prosecutors in which more than 1,000 people were interviewed. Satsyuk attended a private dinner with Yushchenko when he was running for president in 2004. Ukraine’s pro-Russian government at the time was opposed to Yushchenko, fearing his pro-western tendencies and ambitions for Ukraine to join Nato.

After a dinner of crayfish, Ukrainian specialities, vodka and beer, Yushchenko’s wife noticed a metallic taste when she kissed him. The following morning he was violently ill and his face became bloated and pockmarked. Five years on he remains heavily scarred.

Yushchenko went on to win the election, in what became known as Ukraine’s orange revolution when hundreds of thousands of his supporters took to the streets.

Doctors in Austria and the United States concluded he had ingested up to 6,000 times the safe level of the poison dioxin, coupled with a chemical agent to speed up its effect.

According to Yushchenko, the suspects include the cook and a waiter. The Ukrainians also want to question Taras Zaleski, a former aide to Satsyuk. He, too, is believed to be in Moscow. Satsyuk, who was granted Russian citizenship which gives him immunity from extradition, denies any involvement.

Ukrainian investigators suspect Russia played a part in the plot. The type of dioxin used is produced in Russia but not in Ukraine. The Soviet-era KGB had a secret laboratory which developed untraceable poisons to assassinate its enemies.

Relations between the Russian government and Yushchenko are at an all-time low. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, said recently that as long as Yushchenko held power, relations would never be normal. Yushchenko will stand again in elections in January but is expected to lose by a landslide.

“We believe officials in Russia were behind the poisoning,” said a source close to the investigation. “Given Russia’s stance, I don’t expect to see any of the main players ever being brought before a court.”

Source: TimesOnline