Democratic members of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee have warned Western governments not to ignore a spate of suspected Russian assassinations in Britain and the US, exposed by BuzzFeed News last year, as part of President Vladimir Putin’s assault on the global democratic order.
A 200-plus page report released Wednesday warned that “a number of individuals, including vocal Putin critics, investigative journalists, and others in the Kremlin’s crosshairs, have died beyond Russia’s borders,” and that such suspected political assassinations are part of Kremlin’s efforts “to promote a climate more conducive to the Russian government’s corrupt and anti-democratic behavior” in the West.
The report refers extensively to a two-year investigation by BuzzFeed News that revealed explosive evidence connecting 14 deaths in the UK and one in the US to Russia. All 15 cases have been treated as nonsuspicious by authorities on both sides of the Atlantic, but the senators warned the governments of both countries not to turn a blind eye. “It is not inconceivable that the Kremlin could use its security services in the United States as it has elsewhere,” they wrote. “The trail of mysterious deaths, all of which happened to people who possessed information that the Kremlin did not want made public, should not be ignored by Western countries on the assumption that they are safe from these extreme measures.”
The report highlights the case of Mikhail Lesin, the founder of the news and propaganda network RT, who was found bludgeoned to death in his Washington, DC, hotel room in 2015. The US government ruled the death an accident, but BuzzFeed News revealed last year that Lesin’s battered body was discovered on the eve of a planned meeting with the US Justice Department and that multiple intelligence and law enforcement officials said he was bludgeoned to death. BuzzFeed News also exposed holes in the police investigation.
The Senate Democrats’ report also points to fresh evidence uncovered by BuzzFeed News in the case of Alexander Perepilichnyy, a Russian financier who dropped dead in the UK after blowing the whistle on a massive Kremlin-linked fraud in 2012. The British police declared his death nonsuspicious even after independent tests found traces of a deadly plant poison in his stomach. A British coroner’s inquiry into Perepilichnyy’s death was upended last June after BuzzFeed News exposed explosive intelligence connecting his death directly to the Kremlin – outlined in a classified report sent to Congress by the Office for the Director of National Intelligence. The inquest has now been delayed until the spring while the coroner seeks fresh evidence from the government in the wake of the revelations.
The Senate report is the first by the US Congress to detail evidence of Russia’s interference in Western democracies since the US intelligence community assessed that the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
The report was commissioned by Sen. Ben Cardin, the committee’s top Democrat, whose spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. The report was not signed by any Republican members, and a source familiar with the matter said that Republicans were not involved in its creation. But Cardin has tried to keep it out of the increasingly partisan fight over the investigations into Russian interference and possible collusion with the Donald Trump campaign. “Our report is not partisan – at all,” Cardin told CNN. “In fact, much of what is in this report was with the assistance of Republican members.”
Still, the report lambasts President Trump for failing to stand up to Russia. “Never before has a U.S. president so clearly ignored such a grave and growing threat to U.S. national security,” it states.
A spokesperson for Sen. Bob Corker, chair of the committee and a Republican, said he had received the report Monday evening and would review it.
Heidi Blake is the Global Investigations Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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