Shortly after Alexei A. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, showed signs of poisoning last month, members of his team rushed to the Siberian hotel where he was staying and seized everything that could be used as evidence, including a the water bottle he tested showed was contaminated with a highly toxic nerve agent.
Even as Russia claims it played no role in poisoning Mr Navalny, new details were released on Thursday. in a post on Mr.’s account. Navalnys on Instagram underline his teams’ deep concern for his well-being and their fear that he could fall victim to the kind of attacks directed at other Kremlin critics.
In a video posted on Instagram, Mr. Navalnys’s team members quickly put on rubber gloves and cleaned his room at the Xander Hotel in Tomsk, packing evidence in blue plastic bags.
The plastic water bottle, Mr. Navalnys’s team and German investigators say, eventually helped German military scientists determine that the opposition leader had been poisoned with a chemical weapons class called Novichok, a Soviet-designed poison that Russian operatives used to at least one previous assassination.
The rush to get evidence suggests that Mr Navalny and his team were prepared for the eventuality that there would be an attempt on his life. Indeed, in meetings with supporters around Russia, he was often asked how he survived, given his fierce criticism of the Kremlin and Russia’s most powerful figures.
His continued existence even fueled conspiracy theories that he was in fact a government puppet, paid to play the role of an opposition figure, while never really seeking power himself.
On August 20, these suspicions were dispelled when Mr. Navalny began drowning and shouting on a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk.
Shortly after Mr Navalnys’ plane made an emergency landing, his aides contacted team members who had stayed in Tomsk to tell them what had happened, according to Mr Navalnys’s post. Navalnys on Instagram.
At that moment, they did something that was possible, the statement said. They called a lawyer, went to the hotel room that Navalny had just left, and began identifying, recording, and packing everything they found, including water bottles from the hotel.
When Mr Navalny was taken from a Siberian hospital in Berlin on August 22, the evidence went with him. It is unclear how Mr Navalnys’s team was able to steal the bottle and other items abroad without the knowledge of Russian officials.
Russia has insisted since Mr Navalny first fell ill that he had not been poisoned and instead offered a number of alternative theories, such as that he had used cocaine or had low blood sugar and simply needed it. eat candy. Such statements convinced Mr Navalny’s team that the Russian authorities had no interest in conducting a genuine investigation.
It was absolutely clear to us that Navalny was not easily ill or was too hot and a Raffaello candy would not help, read the Instagram post. So we decided to seize everything that could hypothetically be useful and give it to doctors in Germany.
An analysis by German military scientists at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology in Munich found traces of a nerve agent in the Novichok family in Mr Navalny’s blood and urine, as well as in one of the bottles. Based on the German findings, Mr Navalnys’s team, according to the Instagram post, now believes he was poisoned in that hotel room, not at the airport as they had initially suspected.
Laboratories in France and Sweden this week confirmed German findings that Mr Navalny had been poisoned with a nerve agent from the Novichok family. A similar poison was used by Russian military intelligence operatives who traveled to Britain in 2018 to attack Sergei V. Skripal, a former intelligence officer who had served time in prison in Russia for spying for the British before being traded in a spy exchange.
Given the substance used, German authorities and others say there is no doubt that the Russian government was after the poisoning, a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which it is a signatory.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the world’s chemical weapons watchdog, is expected to release in the coming days the results of its analysis of biomedical samples collected by Mr Navalny from its team of experts, the agency said in a statement on Thursday.
If those results confirm the German, French and Swedish findings, the German government would move quickly to impose financial sanctions on Russia through the European Union, according to a senior German security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.
We do not doubt our result, said the official. It is simply to give it even more political legitimacy.
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