The family of a Soviet defector who died in Salisbury in 2001 is living in fear following the recent poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in the same English city, according to his son.
Nikita Pasechnik, whose scientist father Vladimir Pasechnik defected to Britain in 1989 and suffered a stroke 12 years later, said his relatives are now “scared to death”.
“Every normal person would fear,” Nikita Pasechnik told AFP in a recent interview in the southwest English county of Dorset where he lives, blaming the death on Russian security services.
Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury in March with the Soviet-made Novichok nerve agent. They spent weeks recovering in hospital.
Britain has blamed the attempted assassination on Moscow, which has denied involvement.
Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old English woman who also came into contact with the toxin along with her surviving partner Charlie Rowley in nearby Amesbury, died on July 8 and was cremated this week.
“Even here in the UK I don’t feel safe — that was one of their goals with Skripal,” Pasechnik said. “These two cases are different but the similarity between them is that I believe they killed my father. “They poisoned him and they poisoned Skripal,” he alleged.
Pasechnik, an IT specialist, wants his father’s death 17 years ago probed. But other relatives worry it could make them targets. “My family don’t want to be exposed. They’re scared to death,” the 53-year-old father said.
Vladimir Pasechnik was a senior biologist who fled the Soviet Union as the Cold War was ending and exposed its vast clandestine programme adapting germs and viruses for military use.
He defected in Paris and settled near Salisbury, working at a public health microbiological research centre at Porton Down, where the British military also has research facilities. His family joined him in stages through the 1990s. In November 2001, aged 64, he was hospitalised after suffering a stroke and died within weeks.
Local authorities ruled his death was from natural causes, and no inquest or criminal investigation was launched. But Pasechnik said the doctors who treated him said they could not pinpoint its cause and the stroke was more widespread than normal.
“There were many clots simultaneously,” he said. “Basically two-thirds of the brain was affected and the doctor said ‘It’s very unusual…. It is strange.'” Vladimir Pasechnik had voiced concerns he would be targeted, according to his son.
He remembers his father referring to Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, who was poisoned in London in 1978 using an umbrella. The son’s suspicions grew following the 2006 poisoning death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, also in the British capital.
The British government in March vowed to re-examine 14 Russia-related deaths on UK soil following claims of possible Kremlin or mafia involvement. Vladimir Pasechnik’s case is not among them.
After defecting, Vladimir Pasechnik revealed a vast network of Soviet biological weapons laboratories.
It led the West to confront Moscow with the evidence and forced unprecedented inspections of its facilities. “His defection was one the most important in modern history… it completely changed the game,” a Western source familiar with the case told AFP.
“I was quite surprised,” he said of learning of his death. “He wasn’t that old, but on the other hand strokes are relatively common.” The source added: “I am sure that the Russians were extremely upset that he was the whistleblower on their illegal BW (bio-weapons) programme of course.”
Both the Russian embassy in London and the foreign ministry in Moscow recently referred to Vladimir Pasechnik amid ongoing recriminations against British authorities over the Skripal case, saying he had died “mysteriously”.
“The fact that his son is not satisfied with official conclusions regarding his death is an ample illustration thereof,” a spokesperson for the embassy told AFP.
© Agence France-Presse