Former Russian state TV journalist claims Putin 'doesn't have enough Novichok' to kill growing number of critics

·4-min read

A former Russian state TV journalist has claimed that an "isolated" Vladimir Putin "doesn't have enough Novichok" to kill his growing number of critics.

Russian dissident Marina Ovsyannikova, who made global headlines for her on-air protest against the war in Ukraine last year, spoke to Beth Rigby Interviews where she provoked the Russian president once again.

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"I think that Putin doesn't have enough Novichok for all his opponents. Because actually when the war started, many more people started speaking against the regime and many more will do that," she said.

Novichok was the military-grade nerve agent used in the 2018 Salisbury poisonings, and to attack the Russian opposition politician, Alexei Navalny in 2020.

Ms Ovsyannikova, who worked for the Channel One Russia television channel from 2003 until last year, expressed hopes that the Russian president could be toppled by those around him, and addressed recent criticism of Mr Putin by the Wagner mercenary group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Another Putin loyalist, Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Chechen Republic and also a colonel general in the Russian military has also openly criticised the performance of Russian forces in Ukraine.

Ms Ovsyannikova said: "I think Ukraine will start winning the war and then this will just divide the elites."

"Look what happening now.... what Prigozhin is saying. Prigozhin is speaking up. And then [Ramzan] Kadyrov is also saying something else. And I hope that the system will break up from the inside."

Asked if it could be Russia's elites that overthrow Putin, Ms Ovsyannikova said that since opposition leader Alexei Navalny is in prison, "there is no leader who would be able to consolidate people".

She added: "There is no active organisation. So I think the elites will divide and well, we don't know - this might not be a classic coup. No one, probably, is going to kill or poison Putin, but someone from his inner circle might come to him one day and say, Vladimir, we're losing the war. It's time to go.

"On the last day of war, when Russia loses the war, this will be his last day. This is clear. He fears for his life. He is in his bunker. He's isolated."

Ms Ovsyannikova described Navalny as a "hero" but said even his death would not be enough to bring people out to protest on the streets.

She also expressed fears over his deteriorating health, telling Sky News: "We know that he's being tortured just in front of the world's eyes. God forbid he dies. But I don't think that will trigger any mass protest, because you need to understand Russian people are intimidated and there is nothing that will make people take to the streets.

"The police are everywhere and you just raise your head from the ground and your life will be upended."

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Ms Ovsyannikova also touched on the detention of American journalist Evan Gershkovich in Russia, describing it as Putin's way of sending a "signal" to foreign journalists to stay out of his country.

However, she did say Mr Gershkovich could be released in a prisoner swap.

"Evan Gershkovich was taken hostage and he will be used as a token. He will be exchanged as an exchange for other people loyal to Putin who are now in American or British prisons," she said.

"But at the same time, I believe that with this, Putin sent a very strong signal to all foreign journalists. Don't stay here. Russia is a dangerous place."

Recalling her protest against the war in Ukraine live on the Russian state TV channel where she worked, Ms Ovsyannikova described how she felt compelled to act after seeing Russia's invasion begin.

She said: "When the war started, well, I couldn't look away. Blood was spilled. There were millions of refugees. And I could see all that on my screens. But this is not what propaganda was saying. It was all smoke and mirrors.

"I can say that the war became a point of no return for me, and that I could no longer keep silent. I could feel that I was living in a parallel reality. That the country was going completely totalitarian."

You can watch Beth Rigby Interviews on Sky News at 9pm tonight