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Chemical weapons group ready to cooperate with Russia in Navalny poisoning case

Aleksei Navalny (Evgeny Feldman/Novaya Gazeta/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has confirmed Russia’s request for the global watchdog to dispatch experts to the country as the Kremlin faces accusations of being behind the poisoning of opposition figure Aleksei Navalny.

The Hague-based OPCW said in a statement on October 5 that four days earlier it had received a request to “consider dispatching experts from the Technical Secretariat to the Russian Federation in order to cooperate with Russian experts.”

In his response to the Russian authorities, OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias said “a team of experts could be deployed on short notice,” but he also “sought further clarification from the Russian Federation on the type of expertise contemplated.”

The 44-year-old Navalny was discharged on September 22 from the Berlin hospital where he was being treated for what Germany has said is a case of poisoning with a Soviet-style nerve agent

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In an interview published on October 1, his first since his recovery, Navalny said he believed that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind the poisoning in August that almost killed him.

The Kremlin said the accusation was unacceptable, groundless, and insulting.

In his interview, the longtime Kremlin critic said his health continues to improve after spending 32 days in the clinic, including 24 days in an intensive care unit.

Navalny collapsed aboard a flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20 and spent nearly three weeks in an induced coma.

After 48 hours in a hospital in Omsk, where Russian doctors said they found no trace of any poisoning, Navalny was transferred to the Charite hospital in Berlin.

Doctors there found traces of a Novichok-like nerve agent in his body. Their findings were independently confirmed by laboratories in France and Sweden, sparking international condemnation.

Moscow denied that Russia or the Soviet Union had ever developed or made the family of nerve agents at the center of the international findings, Novichok, despite decades of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The Russian government has also resisted international pressure to launch a criminal investigation.

Chemical agents such as those in the Novichok group are banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997 and have never been shown to have been used on the battlefield.

But they were used in the 2018 poisoning of a former Soviet intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter by suspected Russian agents in Salisbury, England.

Their development has been attributed to the Soviet State Scientific Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, which was jointly run by the Soviet military and the KGB, during the 1970s and 1980s.

In addition to foreign intelligence agencies, Russian scientists in the past have come forward to discuss Novichok’s development.

In an interview on October 3, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he expected the European Union to impose new sanctions against Russia over the poisoning, saying: “Such a grave violation of the International Chemical Weapons Convention cannot be left unanswered. On this, we’re united in Europe.”

Germany currently holds the rotating presidency of the 27-member bloc.

EU leaders are set to discuss their reaction and possible sanctions against Russia during their next summit on October 15-16.