Strong evidence emerged yesterday that the former Russian prime minister, Yegor Gaidar, a leading liberal and Kremlin critic, may have been poisoned just a day after the former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko died in London.
Mr Gaidar became seriously ill while on business in Dublin last week. The 50 year-old apparently fell ill with violent vomiting after consuming a fruit salad and a cup of tea at an academic conference and was taken to a Dublin hospital.
The Irish government said last night that it was investigating the incident amid calls for radiation tests to be carried out at the locations visited by the former premier. The life of Mr Gaidar, a prominent economist, was said to have hung by a thread for a while but he is now reported to be recovering in a hospital at an undisclosed location in Moscow. His daughter, Maria, said that her father had lost half his body weight but that his life was now out of danger. Though definitive confirmation was not expected until today, one of Mr Gaidar’s aides said yesterday that doctors strongly suspected that he had been poisoned.
“Doctors don’t see a natural reason for the poisoning and they have not been able to detect any natural substance known to them [in Mr Gaidar’s body],” his spokesman, Valery Natarov, said. “So obviously we’re talking about poisoning [and] it was not natural poisoning.”
It is not yet known if he has been exposed to a radioactive substance such as polonium-210, the lethal isotope which poisoned Mr Litvinenko.
Mr Gaidar was in Ireland as a part of a tour to publicise a new book on contemporary Russia, The Death of Empire.
Last Friday he travelled north of Dublin to address a two-day conference at the history department of the National University of Ireland at Maynooth in Co Kildare. He fell ill while attending the meeting and was taken to hospital in Blanchardstown, Dublin, where he was treated after suffering violent vomiting.
The former premier suffers from diabetes and his condition was initially thought to have caused his condition. He then returned to the conference but again had to leave after falling ill a second time.
He was treated in hospital until Sunday, when he was considered to be well enough to return to Moscow. A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dublin said yesterday: “He left after being discharged from hospital. There was nothing to believe that his illness was suspicious. That situation is now under review.”
The Irish Green Party yesterday called on the Government to carry out urgent tests for radiation contamination in all the places which had been visited by Mr Gaidar, including his Dublin hotel.
Mr Gaidar was the architect of Russia’s unpopular tough market reforms in the early 1990s and, although he is now far removed from frontline politics, he has regularly spoken out critically about the direction in which Russia is going.
Anatoly Chubais, chief executive of the electricity giant UES, a man who has also survived an attempt on his life, said that he was convinced that Mr Gaidar had been poisoned.
He said he saw a connection with the death of Mr Litvinenko and the murder of the investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was another fierce Kremlin critic, in October.
“Yegor Gaidar was on the verge of death on 24 November,” said Mr Chubais. “The deadly triangle – Politkovskaya, Litvinenko and Gaidar – would have been very desirable for some people who are seeking an unconstitutional and forceful change of power in Russia.”
He made it clear, however, that he did not think the Russian authorities were involved in Mr Gaidar’s poisoning.
Mr Putin has already phoned Mr Gaidor to wish him a speedy recovery.