Checks Present Russian Opposition Chief Was Poisoned
The Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group, the German government said on Wednesday. The toxicological results will raise suspicions that the Kremlin was involved in the attack.
Navalny, who fell ill on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk last month, is being treated in Berlin’s Charité hospital. After two days of careful negotiations between his family, his personal doctor and the Russian authorities, who were reluctant to release him, he was flown there from Omsk.
Steffen Seibert, spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, said in a statement that a toxicological test carried out by the Charité hospital laboratory had shown “clear evidence of a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group” in Navalny’s system.
Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent, was used in 2018 in the British city of Salisbury to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. The substance disrupts the nervous system and causes the body functions to be switched off.
Seibert said the German government would inform its partners in the EU and NATO about the test results and consult them on a joint response. Merkel said later on Wednesday on German television that the test results had proven that Alexei Navalny was the victim of a crime.
“He should be silenced and I condemn this in the strongest possible terms,” she said. “There are now very serious questions that only the Russian government can and must answer.”
In the first US statement, White House Nation Security Council spokesman John Ullyot wrote on Twitter: “The United States is deeply concerned about the results released today. The poisoning of Alexei Navalny is completely reprehensible. Russia has used the chemical nerve agent Novichok in the past. We will work with allies and the international community to hold the people of Russia accountable wherever the evidence leads and limit the resources for their malicious activities. “
Ullyot added: “The Russian people have the right to express their views peacefully, without fear of retaliation of any kind, and certainly not by chemical means.”
Navalny’s allies, a staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, have accused the Kremlin of deliberately poisoning the opposition leader.
The German finding will make their claim more believable and make it harder for Russian leaders to deny any role in the poisoning, as access to the country’s novichok inventory is highly regulated and restricted to those with high clearance.
“In 2020, poisoning Navalny with Novichok is exactly the same as leaving an autograph on the scene. So, ”tweeted Leonid Volkov, another ally of Navalny, and added a photo of Putin’s signature.
“Novichok can only be administered by the government,” tweeted Ivan Zhdanov, director of the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation, with the approval of the GRU Secret Service and FSB Security Service, when he heard the news. “That is without any reasonable doubt.”
Putin’s press spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Russian news agency TASS that Germany had not notified the Kremlin before its statement was published. He did not comment further.
But Russian officials and Navalny critics were quick to downplay the gravity of the situation and deny the poisoning last month. They claimed that his illness was due to a “metabolic disorder caused by a steep drop in blood sugar” and not to poison.
In videos posted on Instagram by a passenger aboard Navalny’s Tomsk-Moscow flight on August 20, the politician can be heard howling in agony from the plane’s bathroom. After the plane crashed in Omsk, an unconscious navalny was wheeled on a stretcher to an ambulance and taken to the city’s hospital, where he fell into a coma.
He’s been in a coma for almost two weeks. The Charité hospital said in a statement on Wednesday that Navalny is in serious condition and has a ventilator. The hospital said he is gradually recovering but could have “long-term consequences” from the poisoning.