Kremlin Rejects Navalny Poison Reports As Anti-Russia 'Campaign'

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has dismissed German reports that opposition figure Alexei Navalny was poisoned, describing the allegations as a smear campaign against Moscow.

Navalny—long one of the most prominent pro-democracy opposition figures in Russia and a thorn in the side of President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian regime—fell ill last month while traveling from Siberia to Moscow. He had been in Siberia campaigning for local elections there.

Russian authorities eventually allowed Navalny, 44, to be transported from Russia to Germany for treatment. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that Navalny had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, the same type that has previously been used to attack Russian dissidents abroad.

Navalny remains in a critical condition and in a medically induced coma at Berlin's Charite hospital. "This is disturbing information about the attempted murder through poisoning against a leading Russian opposition figure," Merkel said Wednesday.

The Russian government has denied any involvement in the attack on Navalny. On Wednesday, Zakharova framed the German report as a disinformation campaign against Moscow.

"Instead of thorough investigation and scrupulous joint work with the aim of obtaining authentic results our partners prefer to make more public statements without presenting any facts," Zakharova said on Rossiya-1's 60 Minutes program, according to the Tass state news agency. "All this is another information campaign," she added.

The spokesperson said the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office asked Germany to share its information on Navalny on August 27, but received no reply. This, Zakharova claimed, suggests an anti-Russian conspiracy.

"What is most important and sad at the same time is that our partners openly neglect—today it was demonstrated very clearly—the available mechanisms of legal interaction for obtaining genuine results," Zakharova said.

"The German government turned the microphone on and said what it said," she added. "As far as we understand, the target audience of today's statements were the European Union and NATO."

"The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was mentioned for some reason as well. All this was done instead of what should have been done first thing—a reply to the query from the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office."

The Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent was used in the attempted assassination of Soviet double agent Sergei Skripal in the U.K. in 2018. The attempt put both Skripal and his daughter in hospital.

The bottle containing the nerve agent was later discovered by a local man who mistook it for perfume, gifting it to his partner. The man required hospital treatment while his partner died.

Russia has repeatedly rejected accusations that it was behind the Skripal attack, despite clear evidence that the culprits were Russian military intelligence agents. The incident prompted a host of nations—including the U.S.—to expel a record number of Russian diplomats.

It is not yet clear who was behind the attack on Navalny. There are multiple intelligence agencies jostling for power in Russia, competing for Putin's favor through their own covert projects.

Many other Kremlin critics and dissidents abroad have been attacked or killed in the past, whether through direct orders from the government or from those seeking to impress or win over the president and his close aides.

Russia has repeatedly sought to dodge allegations of wrongdoing by dismissing criticism as Russophobia or disinformation campaigns against Moscow. This was Zakharova's defense on Wednesday, even as a Russian lawmaker proposed a conspiracy theory that Navalny had in fact been poisoned in Berlin.

Andrei Lugovoi, a member of the State Duma's security and anti-corruption committee and a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, told Tass Wednesday he was "sure" that Navalny was not poisoned in Russia.

"Once they have found something linked with Novichok, most likely, he was exposed to it in this clinic," Lugovoi said, without providing any evidence for his assertion. "A nurse or a doctor could have done that if they really wanted to somehow expose Navalny to a toxic agent. I am sure this is what really happened."

"It is absolutely illogical to poison a man and then send him to Germany so that they could find out he was poisoned," Lugovoi said. "Should it be done at a state level, a way would have been found to avoid and explain it."

Russia, Alexei Navalny, poison, novichok, maria zakharova
The ambulance that was carrying Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny leaves the Berlin Charite Hospital on August 22, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Maja Hitij/Getty Images/Getty