Poison(s) – Episode Three: The War

February 24, 2022. 6h. Vladimir Kara-Murza wakes up in Moscow. He turns on his phone and discovers the unthinkable: Vladimir Putin has launched the invasion of Ukraine. The day before, the political opponent did not want to believe it. After watching the first images of the sirens echoing throughout Kiev, his second thought turned to Europe: for him, this invasion is the result of the weakness of the West, which refused to hear, to understand what Vladimir Kara-Murza and others kept repeating: Vladimir Putin will not stop there. After the Donbass, the Crimea, the whole Ukraine from now on. A war at the gates of Europe.

In London, a journalist also wakes up stunned. Arkady Ostrovsky was born in Russia but has become a British citizen since he studied in London. Stunned but not surprised. He is close to Alexei Navalny whom he has followed since 2007. He has seen the number one political opponent of Putin grow up, from his first videos to meetings mobilizing thousands of Russians, in a country that has become authoritarian. They talked together for dozens of hours, remaking the world, imagining a world without Putin. Navalny never stops denouncing Putin’s corruption. He carries out long term investigations, precise, detailed and aimed at the whole of Putin’s circle. He uses the Internet to wage this war. His videos are viral. His popularity rating is rising. Vladimir Putin feels the danger getting closer. In August 2020, Alexei Navalny is poisoned, also with Novichok. Immediately, the world diplomats react, accusing Russia. This is a turning point. Under pressure from Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, Navalny is evacuated to Berlin. He is saved in extremis. During his stay, a team of journalists from the website Bellingcat bought the data of the flights taken by Navalny at the time of his poisoning. They discover that he was followed by an FSB team. With his help, they manage to trap one of them who confesses to Navalny how the poison was administered to him. Navalny also took advantage of his stay in Berlin to carry out a monumental investigation into Putin’s fortune and his palace on the Black Sea. It was not published immediately. Navalny is waiting for his return to Russia for that.

Arkady Ostrovsky met Alexei Navalny during his stay in Berlin. He found a weakened but determined man: his place was in Moscow. A few months later, the journalist accompanied the opponent on the plane back to Russia. Upon arrival, Alexei Navalny was arrested. A few weeks later, Navalny will release his latest investigation “Putin’s Palace”, seen hundreds of millions of times. His last thumbs down to the one who wants him dead. He has since been sentenced to 9 years in prison, locked up in a penal colony, under new charges.

For Arkady Ostrovsky, Navalny’s arrest, which took place before his eyes, was the ultimate signal of Russia’s shift from an authoritarian state to a dictatorship. Thus, the story of Alexei Navalny’s poisoning and Vladimir Putin’s path to war are two sides of the same story.

This war, Vladimir Putin thought that the Westerners would watch it from afar. He did not expect such a shield in front of him. A few hours before it started, on 22 February, the new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the suspension of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. This was the first time that Germany had reacted in this way, agreeing to put aside its economic interests. The beginning of the Western response to the Kremlin’s master with a tool: the sanctions. A set of sanctions that has its origin in the Magnitsky Act, carried by Vladimir Kara-Murza and William Browder and voted in the United States in 2010. For the American senators, this vote was historic. It is a turning point in the post-Cold War history between the United States and Russia, marking the beginning of a new policy.

The objective: to establish a regime of sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Individual sanctions but also economic sanctions. In 2014, under the Obama administration, Eddie Fishman is in charge of sanctions against Iran. In March, Vladimir Putin announces the attachment of Crimea to Russia. In July, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 falls apart over Donetsk, shot down by pro-Russian separatist forces. The White House then asked Eddie Fishman to set up a sanctions regime against Russia. He was inspired by his experience in Iran. But the American policy could not be implemented without the agreement of the main interested parties: the European partners. A Europe on which Putin has bet in several ways. For several years now, the Kremlin has been able to seduce former heads of state and ministers by granting them substantial remuneration in Russian companies. Gerhard Schröder, François Fillon, Nicolas Sarkozy, David Osborne have all succumbed. Russia also finances extremist parties and agitators. Putin is thus dividing the European Union.

After the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in 2018, after the poisoning of Alexei Navalny in 2020, the Americans are trying to put pressure on Russia by sanctioning the ongoing work on Nord Stream 2. In 2018, there are heated discussions between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel. Trump tells her that Putin has trapped them with gas, that Russia has Germany in its grip. The chancellor refutes. But Germany refuses the sanctions against Russia. But for the Russian sanctions specialist Eddie Fishman, nothing can be done without the cooperation of all, and therefore of Germany. Sanctions must reach Russia, not European interests. This is the limit of the system… until war breaks out.

Since then, faced with the threat of a war that could spread to the European continent, with the nuclear war that could fall, the economic interests of the various partners take second place to the political will to constrain the master of the Kremlin. For the past 9 months, these various sanctions have been implemented by the United States and the European Union. Targeted individual, economic and diplomatic measures. They are not aimed at preventing the war waged by Russia against Ukraine, but at extending it to the rest of Europe. A list has been drawn up of individual sanctions. For the first time, it includes Vladimir Putin, his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, oligarchs linked to the Kremlin such as Roman Abramovich, hundreds of deputies of the Russian Duma, civil servants, military personnel, businessmen, and members of their families. This is not enough for Alexei Navalny’s relatives, who have taken up the fight with his association Anti- Corruption Foundation. They regularly draw up lists of all those who should also be sanctioned to put pressure on Vladimir Putin. They are at 6000 names.

Vladimir Kara-Murza also campaigned for the application of these sanctions from the beginning of the war. In March 2022, he managed to get out of Russia to the United States. He will visit his wife and children, established in the suburbs of Washington since his first poisoning in 2015. He takes the opportunity to meet politicians in several states: Washington, New York but also Arizona, the stronghold of John McCain, who had taken with him the senators during the vote of the Magnitsky Act. The goal: to convince them to sanction Putin’s Russia. Before returning to Moscow, because it is for him too, as for Navalny, the only true place of a Russian dissident.

On the way back, he stopped in London and then Paris. It was the beginning of April 2022. We made a big interview. Then he spent the weekend with his wife Evgenia in a small apartment facing the Eiffel Tower. She went back to Washington, he to Moscow. This was the last time they saw each other. A few days after his return, he was arrested by the police on the pretext that he had refused to answer an identity check. Two weeks later, the real motive emerged: he was accused of disseminating false information. A few weeks earlier, just after the outbreak of the war, the Kremlin had passed a law against the dissemination of “false information”. Since then, the word “war” has been banned in Russia. But Vladimir Kara- Murza never wanted to stop using it. He now faces 15 years in prison. A few weeks ago, a new charge was added: “high treason”, an even higher sentence, 20 years in prison. He is waiting for his trial in prison. Since February 24, 2022, in Russia, nearly 20,000 people have been thrown into prison for demonstrating their opposition to the war.


  • Year: 2023
  • Duration: 57 mins
  • Production: Little Big Story & Calach Films
  • Director: Jennifer Deschamps
  • Available Versions: ENG, FRA
  • Country of production: France & Luxembourg


  • Hot Docs 2023 (CANADA)

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