Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the improbable claim on Thursday that opposition leader and vehement Putin critic Alexei Navalny was poisoned in Germany, though he was already ill when on a plane out of Russia to that country.
Navalny, Russia’s most prominent political dissident, fell gravely ill on a flight to Moscow in August. His team managed to fly him to Germany, where doctors said he showed symptoms of being poisoned with Novichok, a powerful chemical weapon typically used by the Russian government. After falling ill, Navalny was flown immediately to Germany to receive emergency treatment. He has since made a full recovery.
Given the record of unexplained deaths of opponents of President Vladimir Putin and the fact Novichok is a chemical produced in Russia, the Kremlin was widely suspected to be the culprit. Moscow has strenuously denied these claims. Lavrov insisted that the attack may have been carried out by another person or country.
“We have all grounds to believe that everything which had happened to him [Navalny] from the point of view of warfare agents entering into his body, could have happened in Germany or on the plane where he was loaded and sent to the Charite clinic,” he told an online press conference on Thursday.
In September, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov made a similar claim, insisting that there were too many “absurd inconsistencies” for any of the evidence to be taken at face value.
“There is too much absurdity about this whole situation to take anyone’s word on trust, so we are not going to take anyone’s word,” he said at the time.
“We cannot explain this, because this bottle, if it ever existed, had been taken somewhere in Germany or elsewhere,” he continued. “This means that an object that could serve as evidence of poisoning has been shipped away. This is yet another question: why and so on.”
According to evidence that has emerged since his hospitalization, Navalny appears to have been poisoned in his hotel room in Siberia after investigators found traces of the agent on a water bottle. Navalny has personally accused Putin of being behind the attack.
The Navalny incident recalls a similar confirmed poisoning in the United Kingdom. In March 2018, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for MI5, and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in the English city of Salisbury with Novichok. Both of them also recovered, but one woman died after inadvertently coming into contact with the chemical, causing a severe deterioration in relations between Russia and the West.