Russian opposition leader Navalny directly blames Putin for poisoning

By ISABELLE KHURSHUDYAN | The Washington Post | Published: October 1, 2020

MOSCOW — Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin critic who was poisoned with a nerve agent in August, said Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was responsible for the attack that put him in a coma for weeks.

In the latest standoff between Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, and Putin’s government, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to Navalny’s first interview since the poisoning by alleging that Navalny has been working with CIA agents. Navalny then said he plans to sue Peskov over the claim.

In the interview published by Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine Thursday, Navalny said, “Putin is behind the crime.”

“I have no other versions of the crime. I am not saying this to flatter myself, but on the basis of facts,” Navalny said.

Navalny, 44, became ill during an Aug. 20 flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk. By the time the plane made an emergency landing in nearby Omsk, Navalny was unconscious. After spending two days at a hospital in Omsk, Navalny was transferred to Berlin’s Charité hospital. He was discharged on Sept. 23.

Traces of a nerve agent similar to Novichok, a class of chemical weapons developed by the former Soviet Union and Russia, were found on a water bottle recovered from his Siberian hotel room, Navalny’s allies said recently. Novichok was used to poison former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter two years ago — an attack Western intelligence linked to Russian state security agents.

Navalny’s associates have long alleged that the poisoning was state-ordered, but Thursday’s interview marked the first time Navalny, himself, pointed to Putin.

“We believe that such accusations brought against the Russian president are completely baseless and unacceptable,” Peskov said Thursday.

Peskov added that “Western security services that are working with him” and “this is not the first time that he has been given various instructions.”

“I can be even more specific: Specialists from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency are working within him these days,” Peskov said.

Navalny responded on his website, “It is a statement made directly by a civil servant. So, first of all, I will be suing Peskov. Secondly, I demand that evidence and facts backing ‘the work with CIA specialists’ be published. You can show them on television, in prime time. I allow you to do so.”

Navalny’s poisoning has strained Russia’s relations with Western powers further as many have implored Russia to investigate the incident. Moscow has responded that it doesn’t see reason to do so, citing a lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned because doctors at the Omsk hospital where Navalny initially was treated said they didn’t detect poison.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Navalny at Berlin’s Charité, her spokesman said this week.

“The doctors say I can recover 90%, maybe even 100%, but nobody really knows,” Navalny told Der Spiegel. “Basically, I’m something of a guinea pig; there aren’t that many people you can watch living after being poisoned with a nerve agent.”

Navalny, who was barred from running for president in 2018, has been jailed and harassed frequently. And this was not the first time he has been the victim of a toxic attack. In 2017, Navalny was attacked with an antiseptic green dye that damaged vision in one of his eyes.

But Navalny told Der Spiegel that he intends to return to Russia once his health improves, even though it could be dangerous for him.

“My task now is to remain the guy who is not afraid,” Navalny said. “And I am not afraid!”