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Russian spy chief says Navalny poisoned by West; Siberian police disagrees

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

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

Contradicting statements by Russian officials have suggested either that Western nations could be behind the poisoning in August of opposition politician and outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, or that he was not poisoned at all, and just suffered from “acute pancreatitis.”

News agency RIA Novosti on November 6 published an interview with the chief of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergei Naryshkin, who said that Western intelligence agencies had taken into account assassinating a Russian opposition leader “to revive the withered protest movement in Russia.”

Navalny fell violently ill while on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk shortly after the plane took off on August 20, and the airliner made an emergency landing in Omsk, where Navalny was hospitalized before Russian authorities permitted him to be airlifted to Berlin for treatment.

He was released from the Charite hospital in the German capital on September 22 after spending 32 days in the clinic.

Naryshkin said that he does not have direct evidence proving Western nations’ involvement into Navalny’s poisoning.

But he insisted that the possible assassination of a Russian opposition figure was discussed by Western nations, and Navalny could be the victim of such a plot. He did not provide any evidence or identify the countries involved.

Naryshkin said that Western intelligence had used such methods in Yugoslavia and Ukraine in the past, again without providing any evidence.

Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry’s Siberian branch said on November 6 that Navalny’s falling ill might have been caused by the “exacerbation of chronic pancreatitis.”

The ministry also said that its investigators did not find any tracks of poison on Navalny’s clothes and items he used in a hotel in Tomsk and at the Siberian city’s airport.

The statement also accused three of Navalny’s associates of refusal to show up for questioning. The three were with him before he left Tomsk for Moscow aboard a plane on August 20.

Last month, the European Union and Britain imposed asset freezes and travel bans against six senior Russian officials believed to be responsible for the “attempted assassination” of Navalny, as well as one entity involved in the program that has produced a group of military-grade nerve agents known as Novichok.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) earlier in October confirmed the findings of specialized laboratories in Germany, France, and Sweden that Navalny was poisoned with a substance of the Novichok group.

Novichok was identified by British authorities as the toxin used in the near-fatal poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in 2018 in the English city of Salisbury.

Navalny rejected the ministry’s November 6 statement, saying on Twitter that he was “completely healthy on August 20” before boarding the plane, adding that he had never suffered from any medical conditions.

Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry issued two more statements on November 6, one of them saying that German officials “have refused to provide [Russia] with any material evidence, including his biological samples and results of the tests performed on them, proving that Navalny was poisoned with the notorious Novichok.”

In another statement, the ministry called the situation around Navalny’s poisoning “an amateur-directed performance with a main goal to impose more sanctions on Russia.”

Navalny called statements by Naryshkin and the Interior Ministry “the Kremlin’s exacerbation.”

“It is funny that they, in one day, have Naryshkin say I was poisoned by NATO states, and the Interior Ministry that says there was no poisoning,” Navalny wrote on Twitter.

Navalny has been blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin for ordering the poison attack, while the Kremlin has denied any involvement.