Pussy Riot activist Pyotr Verzilov out of danger after ‘highly plausible’ poisoning

VIDEO: REUTERS
Verzilov (above) will be transferred to Berlin for further treatment, his girlfriend said.
Verzilov (above) will be transferred to Berlin for further treatment, his girlfriend said.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (AFP) - A member of Russian dissident punk band Pussy Riot, Pyotr Verzilov, was the victim of suspected poisoning but is now out of danger, his German doctors said on Tuesday (Sept 18), as his estranged wife called it a likely “assassination attempt”.

“The impression and the findings that we now have, as well as those provided by colleagues from Moscow, suggest that it is highly plausible that it was a case of poisoning,” said Kai-Uwe Eckardt, a leading doctor at Berlin’s Charite hospital.

The hospital’s chairman Karl Max Einhaeupl said his “health condition was improving from day to day and he is no longer in life-threatening danger.” 

Although Verzilov is still under observation in the intensive care ward, he is conscious and did not require any artificial support, said Eckardt, adding that he expected the patient to make a complete recovery.

Verzilov, who has both Canadian and Russian citizenship, was admitted to a clinic in Moscow one week ago after falling ill following a court hearing.

His girlfriend Veronika Nikulshina told journalists in Berlin that Verzilov complained his eyes were blurry a few hours after they arrived home.

“He started to lose the ability to walk straight and was losing the ability to speak well and became kind of disoriented,” she said, adding that by the time the doctors were called in, Verzilov was hallucinating.

The 30-year-old was initially treated in intensive care and later regained consciousness.

 

Late on Saturday, he was flown to Germany by the Cinema for Peace Foundation, an NGO which has long supported the band’s activism.

Verzilov’s estranged wife, Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, said the suspected poisoning was “probably an assassination attempt, if not it was an intimidation.

“Probably because he knew something he wasn’t supposed to know. We have suspicion what it could be but we cannot talk about it without Pyotr’s consent,” she told a press conference in Berlin.

The activist is still unable to hold a thought for more than 10 seconds, she said, adding that she believed “law enforcement agencies” may be to blame.

Verzilov and Nikulshina as well as two other band members served a 15-day jail sentence for invading the football pitch during the World Cup final in July to highlight Russian police abuses.

The allegations of foul play come as the investigation of the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain gathers pace.

Relations between Russia and the West have been severely strained over the Skripal attack, and London has accused two Russian agents of the attempted assassination.

'NOT A DRUG PROBLEM'

Einhaeupl said there were no indications that Verzilov’s illness stemmed from an infection or was metabolic in nature, “therefore we must assume that there had been an exogenous delivery of the toxin that we haven’t been able to identify and which we may not be able to identify.” 

The toxin that affected Verzilov caused anticholinergic syndrome which disrupts the nervous system, said Eckardt.

The German doctor added that tests were being run to determine the substance but chances of finding it were slim as they were done almost a week after it was used.

Einhaeupl ruled out the possibility that it was a case of substance abuse by Verzilov himself.

“Such substances are extremely rare in drug circles and we have no indication that it was a drug problem,” he said.

“For someone to take this drug in such quantities, the person must have suicidal tendencies, and we have absolutely no indication of such intentions” in this case.

The Charite chairman added that “on the question of how this toxin found itself in the body is something that we cannot say, and that’s also not our job.” Pussy Riot has repeatedly been in the crosshairs of the Russian authorities.

In 2012, three of its members, including Tolokonnikova, were arrested for performing a song protesting against President Vladimir Putin in a central Moscow church.

It was a “question of honour to stay and try to make the situation better” in Russia,” Tolokonnikova said, but she acknowledged that it would be “really dangerous” for Verzilov to return.