Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been poisoned with a Novichok group nerve agent, the German government said on Wednesday. The toxicology results will further raise suspicion of the Kremlin’s involvement in the attack.
Navalny, who fell ill on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk last month, is being treated at the Charity Hospital in Berlin. He was flown there from Omsk after two days of laborious negotiations between his family and his personal doctor and the Russian authorities, who were reluctant to release him.
Steffen Seibert, spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said in a declaration that a toxicology test carried out by the laboratory of the Charité hospital showed “unequivocal evidence of a chemical nerve agent of the Novichok group” in the Navalny system.
Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent, was used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and her daughter, Yulia, in the UK town of Salisbury in 2018. The substance disrupts the nervous system and causes bodily functions to stop.
Seibert said the German government would inform its EU and NATO partners of the test results and consult them on a joint response. Speaking on German television later Wednesday, Merkel said the results of the test proved “that Alexei Navalny is the victim of a crime”.
“He was supposed to be silenced, and I condemn that in the strongest possible way,” she said. “There are now very serious questions which only the Russian government can and should answer.”
In the first United States declarationWhite House Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot wrote on Twitter: “The United States is deeply troubled by 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 our allies and the international community to hold those who live in Russia to account, wherever the evidence leads us, and limit funds for their malicious activities.
Ullyot added: “The Russian people have the right to peacefully express their opinions without fear of reprisal of any kind, and certainly not with chemical agents.”
Navalny’s allies, a staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, accused the Kremlin of deliberately poisoning the opposition leader.
The German discovery will add credence to their claim and make it more difficult for Russian leaders to deny any role in the poisoning, as access to the country’s Novichok stockpile is highly regulated and limited to those with permission to high level.
“In 2020, poisoning Navalny with Novichok is exactly like leaving an autograph at the scene of the crime. Like that,” tweeted Leonid Volkov, another Navalny ally, adding a photo of Putin’s signing.
“Novichok can only be administered by the government”, and with the approval of the military intelligence agency of the GRU and the federal security service of the FSB, tweeted Ivan Zhdanov, director of the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation, hearing the news. “It’s definitely reasonable.”
Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov Told Russian news agency TASS said Germany failed to brief the Kremlin before releasing its statement. He did not comment further.
But Russian officials and Navalny’s critics were quick to downplay the gravity of the situation and deny last month’s poisoning, saying his illness was caused by “a metabolic disorder caused by a sharp drop in blood sugar. And not by poison.
In videos posted to Instagram by a passenger aboard the Tomsk-Moscow flight from Navalny on August 20, the politician can be heard screaming in agony from the plane’s bathroom. After the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, an unconscious Navalny was taken on a stretcher to an ambulance and rushed to the city hospital, where he fell into a coma.
He was in a coma for almost two weeks. The Charité hospital said in a declaration Wednesday that Navalny is in serious condition and on a ventilator. The hospital said he was recovering gradually but could have “long-term consequences” due to the poisoning.