Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, few have done more to disrupt Moscow’s plans than Lieutenant-General Kyrylo Budanov and the GUR military intelligence service he leads. Now it appears his enemies have struck back by poisoning his wife and several GUR employees.
Two GUR sources told The Globe and Mail Tuesday that Marianna Budanova had been poisoned with “heavy metals” and was undergoing unspecified treatment. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to speak to the media about the apparent attack.
The Ukrainska Pravda website reported that the poisoning was discovered when the 30-year-old Ms. Budanova was tested after complaining of feeling unwell. The website quoted an unnamed intelligence source saying she was “most likely poisoned through food” and had been hospitalized but was doing better after receiving initial treatment.
Several employees of GUR – an acronym for Main Directorate of Intelligence – were reportedly tested after Ms. Budanova’s diagnosis and found to have also been poisoned. It wasn’t clear when the attack occurred.
One of the GUR sources said only Ms. Budanova had symptoms, and “the other guys were without visible implications.” The source said it was “very possible” that GUR’s rival agency in Russia – the GRU military intelligence service – was behind the attack.
Valeriy Kondratyuk, one of Lt.-Gen. Budanov’s predecessors as head of GUR, said in a video interview with the New Voice of Ukraine website that the poisoning had affected several high-ranking officers.
“It’s not only the guards who were, for example, with Budanov’s wife. It also includes no less than a few high-ranking officials – the heads of individual areas responsible for operations against Russia in the Main Directorate of Intelligence,” Lt.-Gen. Kondratyuk said, adding that it was presumed Lt.-Gen. Budanov himself was “the main target.”
Lt.-Gen. Kondratyuk said the use of poison made Russia the chief suspect in the attack. “Let’s say this is the most well-known tool, which is used by the special services of Russia not only against those the Kremlin considers enemies there, but also against those abroad who oppose the Putin regime.”
There was no comment from the Kremlin on the alleged poisoning, but Moscow has a long history of using toxins to target its enemies. Exotic poisons – as well as chemical agents and nuclear compounds – have been blamed for the assassination of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko and attempts on the lives of Russian opposition leaders Alexey Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza, as well as Sergey Skripal, another former KGB officer that Russian President Vladimir Putin viewed as a traitor.
The scant information about the attack on Ms. Budanova more closely recalls the case of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, who fell ill during the 2004 election campaign after a meal during which he ingested a dangerous amount of an odourless dioxin. Mr. Yushchenko, who was campaigning on a pro-Western platform against Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovych, was left with a badly disfigured face.
Lt.-Gen. Budanov and his inner circle would likely be near the top of any list of the Kremlin’s current enemies. GUR is believed to be responsible for some of the most audacious attacks on Russian and Russian-held territory since the start of the war.
Russian courts have issued at least three arrest warrants for Lt.-Gen. Budanov, who at 37 is the youngest-ever GUR chief and is seen as a hero in Ukraine.
He was accused by Russia’s FSB security service of masterminding the October, 2022, truck bombing that destroyed the bridge connecting the occupied Crimean Peninsula to Russian territory. Another of the arrest warrants accuses him and three other Ukrainian military leaders of organizing more than 100 drone strikes on Russian soil and Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.
After the first charges were laid against him this April, Lt.-Gen. Budanov told Ukrainska Pravda that he was “pleased” to have earned the wrath of Russian authorities. “This is a good indicator of our work, and I promise to work even better,” he said at the time.
In a separate interview, he said his wife – a professor at the country’s national police academy – had been living with him “in the office 24/7″ for security reasons since the start of the invasion in February, 2022.
He has reportedly survived at least 10 attempts on his life, including a 2019 attack that saw a bomb placed under his car detonate before he got into the vehicle. When The Globe visited GUR’s headquarters last year, one of the ancillary buildings on the campus had recently been struck by a Russian missile.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently told Britain’s The Sun newspaper that he had survived “five or six” attempts on his own life.