Nerve agent used to poison Navalny found in Siberia hotel room, tests show

Russian opposition activist’s team initially suspected he was poisoned with airport cup of tea

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny posing for a selfie picture with his family at Berlin’s Charité hospital. Photograph: Instagram account @navalny/AFP via Getty Images

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny posing for a selfie picture with his family at Berlin’s Charité hospital. Photograph: Instagram account @navalny/AFP via Getty Images

 

The nerve agent used to poison Alexei Navalny in Siberia last month was found on a water bottle from his hotel room, the Russian opposition leader’s aides said on Thursday.

After Mr Navalny rapidly fell ill on a flight to Moscow, the anti-corruption activist’s team took a water bottle he drank from in the Siberian city of Tomsk and sent it to a specialist German military laboratory for a toxicology test, his team wrote on his Instagram account.

Mr Navalny’s team initially suspected he was poisoned with a cup of tea he drank at the airport and said they only collected items from his hotel room as a precaution.

Weeks later, however, German scientists discovered traces of a nerve agent from the Novichok group – the same poisons used against former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury – on the bottle. Laboratories in France and Sweden confirmed the diagnosis this week.

The attack on Mr Navalny, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s best-known critic, has heightened tensions between Russia and the west since Mr Navalny lost consciousness after the plane took off from Tomsk on August 20th.

Doctors in the Siberian city of Omsk, where Mr Navalny was hospitalised for two days after the plane made an emergency landing, claimed they had found no traces of toxic substances and denied his family’s requests to move him abroad.

After two days, Mr Navalny was flown to the Charité hospital in Berlin and spent several weeks in a coma.

Surveillance operation

Mr Navalny posted a selfie from his hospital bed on Instagram on Tuesday and wrote that he was able to breathe without a ventilator. “It was great, a really amazing process many people take for granted. Highly recommended,” he wrote.

Police in Russia have yet to open a criminal investigation despite an all-pervasive surveillance operation during Mr Navalny’s trip to Tomsk and security camera footage from the hotel that his aides said could help identify suspects in the poisoning.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday the EU would bring forward proposals for a US-style Magnitsky Act for sanctions against people involved in human rights abuses worldwide in response to Mr Navalny’s poisoning.

“To those that advocate closer ties with Russia, I say that the poisoning of Alexei Navalny with an advanced chemical agent is not a one-off,” Ms von der Leyen added.

“We have seen the pattern in Georgia and Ukraine, Syria and Salisbury – and in election meddling around the world. This pattern is not changing.”

Russia claims it has destroyed its stockpiles of Novichok and implied Mr Navalny could have been poisoned as a “provocation” after he left the country.

Viacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of parliament, said this week that western countries wanted to “stop Russia’s growth through sanctions” and were using Mr Navalny’s poisoning as an excuse.

“What would be the reason for the Russian authorities to poison Alexei Navalny, taking into account that his actual popularity level hardly reaches 2 per cent,” Russia’s mission to the EU wrote in a statement this week. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020