Immediately after Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, showed symptoms of poisoning last month, members of his team rushed to the Siberian hotel where he had been staying and seized everything that could possibly be used as evidence – including a water bottle that test showed it was stained with a very toxic nerve agent.
Although Russia claims that it did not play a role in the poisoning of Mr. Navalny, emphasizes the new details – released Thursday in a post on Mr. Navalny’s Instagram account – the team’s deep concern for his well – being and their fear that he might fall victim to such attacks on other Kremlin critics.
Navalny’s team and German investigators say the plastic water bottle eventually helped German military investigators determine that the opposition leader had been poisoned with a class of chemical weapons called Novichok, a Soviet-designed poison that Russian agents have at least used in the past. attempted murder.
Hurrying to get hold of evidence suggests that Mr. Navalny and his team were prepared for the eventuality that there would be an attempt on his life. In fact, in meetings with supporters around Russia, he was often asked how he remained alive, given his vicious criticism of the Kremlin and Russia’s most powerful figures.
His continued existence even provoked conspiracy theories that he was in fact a government puppet, paid to play the role of an opposition figure, when in fact he never sought power himself.
On August 20, these doubts were put to rest when Mr. Navalny began to choke and scream on a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk.
Immediately after Mr. Navalny’s plane made an emergency landing, his aides contacted members of the team who had stayed in Tomsk to tell them what had happened, according to Mr. Navalny’s Instagram post.
“In that moment, they did the one thing that was possible,” the statement said. “They called a lawyer, went to the hotel room that Navalny had just left, and began identifying, registering and packing everything they found, including bottles of water from the hotel.”
Da Mr. Navalny was flown from a Siberian hospital to Berlin on August 22, the evidence accompanying him. It is unclear how Mr. Navalny’s team was able to sneak the bottle and other items out of the country without the knowledge of Russian officials.
Russia has insisted since Mr. Navalny first became ill that he was not poisoned, and has instead offered a number of alternative theories, as if he had used cocaine or that he had low blood sugar and simply needed to eat some candy. Such statements convinced Mr. Navalny’s team that the Russian authorities had no interest in conducting a real investigation.
“It was quite clear to us that Navalny was not easily ill or overheated and that a Raffaello candy would not help,” read the Instagram post. “So we decided to seize everything that could hypothetically be useful and give it to the doctors in Germany.”
An analysis by German military researchers at the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in Munich found traces of a nerve agent in the Novichok family in Mr. Navalny’s blood and urine as well as on one of the bottles. Based on the German findings, Mr. Navalny’s team according to the Instagram post now that he was poisoned in this hotel room, not at the airport, as they originally suspected.
Laboratories in France and Sweden this week confirmed the German conclusions that Mr. Navalny had been poisoned with a nerve agent from the Novichok family. A similar poison was used by Russian military intelligence operators who traveled to Britain in 2018 to attack Sergei V. Skripal, a former intelligence officer who had served time in prison in Russia for spying for the British before being traded in a spy booty.
Given the substance used, the German authorities and others say there is no doubt that the Russian government was behind the poisoning, a breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which it has signed.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the world watchdog of chemical weapons, is expected to publish the results of its own analysis of biomedical samples collected from Mr. Navalny of its expert teams in the coming days, the agency said in a statement on Thursday.
If these findings confirm the German, French and Swedish findings, the German government will move quickly to impose economic sanctions on Russia through the European Union, according to a senior German security official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.
“We have no doubt about our own outcome,” the official said. “It’s just to give it even more political legitimacy.”