Ukrainian spy chief’s wife ‘poisoned in assassination attempt’

Marianna Budanova
Reports verified by Ukrainian intelligence say Marianna Budanova has experienced a prolonged deterioration in her health

The wife of Ukraine’s spy chief has been hospitalised after she was poisoned with heavy metals.

Marianna Budanova, who is married to Maj Gen Kyrylo Budanov, was tested for the substances after feeling ill for a “prolonged” period of time, according to local media reports verified by Ukrainian intelligence.

Several other members of the GUR, Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, also exhibited mild symptoms of poisoning.

While Ukrainian authorities have not directly accused Russia, the incident raised fears of an assassination attempt.

FSB uses heavy metals to target enemies

The FSB, Russia’s security service, has used heavy metals such as arsenic or polonium to target enemies including Alexander Litvinienko.

Maj Gen Budanov, 37, who has boasted of his desire to kill Russian targets all over the globe, is one of Moscow’s most-wanted men.

The substances used to target Mrs Budanova were “in no way used in everyday life and military affairs”, one source told Ukrainian outlet Babel.

Maj-Gen Budanov is one of Russia’s highest-priority targets
Maj-Gen Budanov is one of Russia’s highest-priority targets - Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

“Their presence may indicate a deliberate attempt to poison a particular person,” the source added.

An investigation has been launched into the alleged attempted murder.

Mrs Budanova, 30, was nearing the completion of treatment in an unnamed medical facility on Tuesday, the news website said.

Another publication, Ukrainska Pravda, reported the poison had likely been administered in her food.

Since the war began, Mrs Budanova has lived in her husband’s office to ensure her safety, he told Radio Liberty in an interview.

“It’s not a problem for her as it might have been for someone else,” Maj Gen Budanov said, referencing her work as a professor at Ukraine’s national police academy.

A trained psychologist, Mrs Budanova was most recently employed as an adviser on corruption to Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv and former heavyweight boxing champion.

Maj Gen Budanov once requested a media story on his wife be edited to clarify he had not given her a bouquet of tulips.

“I didn’t find any bouquet,” he said. “It was not a proper time for flowers…. Well, maybe I’m wrong… I made a flower from stickers, like in the first grade. All I could do at that moment.”

If Russia has successfully managed to target Maj Gen Budanov’s wife, it would suggest Moscow has agents operating in Kyiv’s most secretive inner circles.

Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, recently warned the Kremlin was activating its network of sleeper agents in the capital, before details of the poisoning were made public.

Surprise for Russia to plant agents so close to Maj Gen Budanov

Viktor Yahun, the former deputy head of the domestic intelligence agency, the Security Service of Ukraine, who has participated in past investigations into poisonings, said more information is needed to assess the apparent attack on Mrs Budanova.

He said it would be a surprise for Russia to have successfully planted agents so close to Maj Gen Budanov.

The military intelligence chief has risen to prominence during the war in Ukraine, where he has been portrayed as the mastermind behind many covert operations.

The Kremlin has blamed Maj Gen Budanov’s agency for being behind the murders of pro-war Russian bloggers and a pro-war journalist on Russian soil.

A Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for Maj Gen Budanov, 37, for “organising terrorist attacks” against Russia.

The young general, who was wounded three times fighting behind Russian lines during the 2014 war, has taken to publicly goading Moscow with coded messages.

In one picture released by his office a book on Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, sits in clear sight.

Mossad hunted Palestinian terrorists for decades after the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli athletes - just as he has promised to do with Russians.

A dozen failed assassination attempts

There have been more than a dozen failed assassination attempts against him, before and after Vladimir Putin ordered his invasion of Ukraine.

The GUR headquarters was damaged in a Russian missile barrage in May. Russian media reported Maj Gen Budanov had been badly wounded and may be dead. But he was alive.

“He dusted himself off, put his cap on and went outside to inspect the damage,” one military-intelligence officer told the Economist.

Mrs Budanov ran for election to Kyiv’s City Council for Mr Klitschko’s UDAR party before joining his team as an adviser.

Before that, she worked as a volunteer in Kyiv’s main military hospital between 2015 and 2017.

Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, recently said he had become bored of the various Russian attempts to kill him.

“The first one is very interesting,” he told the Sun, “and after that it is just like Covid.”

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