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Navalny determined to return to Russia despite Kremlin efforts to keep him away

Yulia Navalny, Alexey Navalny and Ilya Yashin at Moscow rally 2013 (Bogomolov.PL/WikiCommons)

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

Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny says the Kremlin is doing everything in its power to prevent him from returning to Russia, but he still plans to go back.

Navalny told U.S. broadcaster CBS in an interview that aired on October 18 that he is determined to go back in a couple of months and take up his work fighting corruption where he left off.

Navalny spoke with the CBS News program 60 Minutes in Berlin, where he is recovering from a poisoning in August with a toxic chemical belonging to the Novichok group.

He said he goes to rehab every day and still feels “a little wooden…because the body lost all flexibility.”

Navalny also said that he believes he was exposed to the poison by touching a bottle. The nerve agent was not inside the bottle, but on it, he said.

Navalny’s team said last month that a water bottle removed from his hotel room in the city of Tomsk after he fell ill had been taken to Germany and found to have traces of the nerve agent.

Asset Freezes, Travel Bans

Last week the European Union and Britain moved to impose asset freezes and travel bans against six senior Russian officials and one entity for “attempted assassination” in connection with the poisoning.

The EU Official Journal on October 15 published the names of the targeted individuals believed to be responsible for the poisoning that nearly took Navalny’s life, as well as the entity involved in the program that has produced a group of military-grade nerve agents known as Novichok.

The officials include Aleksandr Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), two deputy defense ministers, Aleksei Kirivoruchko and Pavel Popov, Andrei Yarin and Sergei Kiriyenko of the presidential office, as well as Sergei Menyailo, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Siberian Federal District.

The targeted organization is the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, which was responsible for developing the Novichok nerve agents during the Soviet era.

Navalny acknowledged that France and Germany led the charge to take action against the officials and the organization, adding that he has “noticed” that the United States has not taken similar steps and indicating that it should.

“I think it’s extremely important that everyone, of course including and maybe in the first role, [the] president of the United States to be very against using chemical weapons” in the 21st century, he said.

Navalny, a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and prominent anti-corruption campaigner, reiterated that he is sure Putin was responsible for the poisoning.

“I think for Putin why he is using this chemical weapon is to do both — kill me and terrify others,” Navalny said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said the accusations that Putin was responsible are baseless and unacceptable.

Peskov also called the EU and British asset freezes and travel bans a “deliberate unfriendly step toward Russia” that will harm relations with Moscow and prompt retaliation.

Navalny said since the poisoning he does not feel any fear, but he fears for his family. Asked about the psychological effect, Navalny said it might be “very useful” for politicians to face death once.

“I became more human after facing death,” he said.

Navalny was released from a Berlin hospital on September 22 after spending 32 days in the clinic. He is still under the protection of the German government because there is concern that he could be the target of another poisoning, according to CBS.

Russian authorities have firmly denied allegations of involvement, resisted international pressure to launch a criminal investigation, and accused Western leaders of launching a disinformation campaign over Navalny’s illness.