Hours after the Russian government skeptically requested details from German doctors who said traces of poison were found in comatose Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Germany announced there is “unequivocal proof” that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, the same nerve agent Russia used in a bungled attempt to assassinate former intelligence agent Sergey Skripal and his daughter in London two years ago.
The German government said on Tuesday morning that its conclusion was based on toxicology tests performed at a military hospital.
“It is a disturbing development that Alexei Navalny was the victim of a chemical nerve agent in Russia,” the German statement said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is reportedly meeting with her advisers to plan Germany’s next move. Germany has officially notified NATO and the European Union of its findings so they can prepare “an appropriate joint response.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas swiftly announced the Russian ambassador has been summoned and informed Germany expects a full and transparent investigation of the attack on Navalny.
Russia has thus far resisted calls for such an investigation, insisting that its doctors found no evidence of poisoning before Navalny was airlifted to Berlin for medical care. Navalny’s family and supporters are equally insistent he was poisoned for his opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his relentless investigations of corruption.
“To poison Navalny with Novichok in 2020 would be exactly the same as leaving an autograph at a crime scene, like this one,” Navalny ally and strategist Leonid Volkov said on Twitter.
Novichok is a distinctive Russian military-grade nerve agent developed during the Cold War. The Russian government claims other parties have learned how to produce Novichok and use it to carry out false-flag attacks designed to embarrass Moscow.
The substance is incredibly dangerous; it failed to kill Skripal and his daughter in 2018, but there were other casualties from the attack. Deploying it aboard a commercial airliner to kill Alexei Navalny would be an act of murderous irresponsibility bound to outrage the international community.
“The identification of the poison as being one of the family of Novichok agents points extremely strongly towards the Russian government being responsible for this outrage,” chemistry professor Andrea Stella of University College London told CNN on Tuesday.
“The Russian government has the motivation for it, but also the track record on multiple levels. It shows both their ruthlessness but also their level of impunity. It is clear that they care little about international opinion and are prepared to act because they know that the consequences are extremely small,” Stella said.