The President of Ukraine accused Russia yesterday of blocking the investigation into the plot to assassinate him with poisonous dioxin. Viktor Yushchenko told The Times that Russia was refusing to cooperate even after he had raised the issue directly with President Putin.

Asked whether he believed there was state involvement in the attempt to murder him, Mr Yushchenko replied: “This was not a private act.” Russia was the only country that had refused to provide Ukrainian investigators with samples of dioxin produced in its laboratories for analysis. Its Prosecutor-General had also ignored requests to extradite Ukrainian suspects who had fled to Russia.

“Three laboratories in the world were producing dioxin of this formula. It is very easy to determine the origin of the substance; there is nothing magical about it,” Mr Yushchenko said, his face still bearing scars caused by the poison. “Two laboratories provided samples but not the Russian side. This of course limits the possibilities of the investigation process.”

The President had to fight for his life three years ago after being struck down at the height of his presidential election campaign against Viktor Yanukovych in 2004. Mr Putin openly supported Mr Yanukovych, who is now Ukraine’s Prime Minister, against his pro-Western rival.

Mr Yushchenko was rushed to a clinic in Austria where specialists found 6,000 times the normal amount of dioxin in his body. He fought on, his face transformed by heavy pockmarks, and was swept to power in the Orange Revolution after public protests overturned a rigged election result in favour of Mr Yanukovych.

Mr Yushchenko, 53, said that the official investigation into his poisoning was almost complete. He added: “The role of all of the individuals that might be involved in this case is already determined. The investigation knows who, when, where, which substance was used.

“There are three key people who are now in Russia. Ukraine has filed a request with the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office about returning these people to Ukraine for the investigation.

“I personally talked to the Russian President about it. Unfortunately, there is no response to this issue whatsoever from the Russian side.” Asked directly whether Russia was responsible, he replied: “If I respond to that question, then the investigation will have nothing to do. We need to question the people who had direct involvement in the case.” Mr Yushchenko has said that he first felt ill after a dinner with Ihor Smeshko, then head of Ukraine’s security service, and his deputy Volodymr Satsiuk.

The method of poisoning led to speculation about the involvement of the Kremlin, which was determined to keep Ukraine within Russia’s sphere of influence by getting Mr Yanukovych into power. Russia denied any role in the incident. Mr Satsiuk and an assistant fled to Russia after the Orange Revolution. Both have said that they had nothing to do with poisoning the President, while
Mr Smeshko has insisted that Ukraine’s secret service was not involved.
Tony Halpin in Kiev, The Times
London, United Kingdom, Tuesday, September 11, 2007

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