Navalny Poisoned Before Leaving Hotel in Siberia, Allies Say

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Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned before he left his hotel in the Siberian city of Tomsk to catch a flight to Moscow, his allies said on Instagram.

Navalny fell victim last month to what German doctors later identified as poisoning by the military nerve agent Novichok. He emerged 10 days ago from a coma in the Berlin hospital, where he’d been flown for treatment.

The revelations add pressure on Russia to investigate the apparent assassination attempt on President Vladimir Putin’s top critic, which Western governments have blamed on the Kremlin.

Navalny’s aides Thursday posted a video of his hotel room, showing staffers gathering possible evidence, including several water bottles. One of them taken to Germany contained traces of Novichok that allowed Germany to identify it, the Instagram post said. “Now we understand: it was done before he left his room to go to the airport,” it said.

Germany’s Der Spiegel reported earlier this month that investigators there suspected Navalny drank from the bottle after he was poisoned, leaving traces of the nerve agent.

The opposition leader is highly unlikely to have been poisoned with Novichok introduced into the water bottle because drinking it would have proven fatal within a few minutes, Proekt reported, citing Vladimir Uglev, part of a team that developed the nerve agent in the Soviet era. Navalny probably was exposed via skin contact, according to Uglev.

“The FBK brilliantly outplayed the FSB,” opposition politician Vladimir Milov wrote on Twitter, referring to the Russian initials of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and the State Security Service, respectively. “They took evidence from under their noses (a bottle with Novichok from the Tomsk hotel) and got it out of the country.”

On the day of the attack, some of his allies stayed behind in Tomsk to continue filming the political video they were working on. When they were alerted that he’d suddenly fallen ill, they summoned a lawyer and collected whatever evidence they could from his room.

“We decided to take everything that might somehow hypothetically be of use and give it to the doctors in Germany,” the post said. “That there would be no investigation of the case in Russia was rather clear.”

Law enforcement officials have removed the servers containing all video surveillance footage from the Tomsk hotel during Navalny’s time there, Proekt reported on Thursday, citing a person close to one of the hotel managers.

The case has led to a sharp worsening in relations between Russia and Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel calling on Moscow to investigate the attack and threatening to suspend a major gas pipeline project if it doesn’t. The Kremlin says it has no evidence Navalny was poisoned and has so far opened only a preliminary probe.

Navalny, who posted a photo of himself and his family on Instagram earlier this week in his first public appearance since the Aug. 20 poisoning, plans to return to Russia when he recovers according to his spokeswoman.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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