Viktor Yushchenko. Permanently disfigured by dioxin when he tried to steer Ukraine towards closer integration with Europe. Alexander Litvinenko. Killed with radioactive polonium after defecting to the UK and criticising Putin. Sergei Skripal. Targeted with novichok after spying for Britain. Alexei Navalny. Vladimir Kara-Murza. The list of people believed to have been poisoned on Putin’s orders goes on and on.

In the 1920s, the Russian Secret Service established the first poison laboratory, tasked with killing enemies of the Communist regime. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, the poisoning of enemies seemed to die with it. All that changed when Vladimir Putin came to power. For twenty years, Russian poison has run through the veins of international diplomacy. 

First there’s the actual poisons – dioxins, polonium or novichok – used to silence critics and send a strong message to would-be opponents. Then there’s the poisoning of ideals and principles, like when the British government blocked requests to hold a public inquiry into Litvinenko’s death out of concerns of ‘international relations’. The poisoning of our financial system by tainted money from Russia. As Kremlin insider, Sergei Pugachev, states: ‘Putin, who owns everything in Russia, corrupts the West…and the West is happy to be corrupted’.

If the sponsors of each poisoning have never been identified with certainty, the exploration of what went on behind the scenes when they took place sheds light on the relationship between the Kremlin and the West. Behind each of these cases, a showdown is being played out, with major diplomatic and geo-strategic stakes. Struggles for influence, attack on the integrity of the empire and its energy wealth, each poisoning reveals the underside of a formidable game of chess in straight out of the times of the Cold War.



  • Year: 2023
  • Duration: 2 x 52 mins
  • Production: Little Big Story
  • Director: Jennifer Deschamps
  • Available Versions: ENG, FRA
  • Country of production: France