Putin Tried to Poison Me, Says Alexei Navalny, as Kremlin Accuses Him of Working with CIA

Anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being behind his poisoning attack by the nerve agent Novichok in his first major interview since he was discharged from a Berlin hospital.

The anti-corruption campaigner spent 16 days in a coma after he fell ill on a flight on August 20. He had been transferred from a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk to Charité hospital in Berlin. He is now recovering in the German capital.

German experts concluded he had been poisoned by Novichok and the case has sparked calls for an international inquiry and tough sanctions on Moscow. The Kremlin has always denied involvement and says there is no conclusive evidence.

But in a cover story for the magazine Der Spiegel , Navalny said he was convinced the order came from the very top. "I claim that Putin is behind this crime; I don't have any other versions of what happened.

"Only two people—the head of the FSB or the SVR—can give the order to use or manufacture it. Maybe another GRU," he said, referring to Russia's security services. "Obviously, they cannot make such a decision without Putin's instructions," he added.

Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and Russian president are shown in this combination image. Navalny has accused Putin of being behind his poisoning by the nerve agent Novichok. Mladen ANTONOV/Getty Images

Navalny also described what it felt like when the poison started to take hold, telling the publication, "You don't feel any pain, but you know you are dying."

He vowed to return to Russia, insisting he did not want to be an opposition leader in exile, saying, "my job now is to remain the guy who is not afraid. And I'm not afraid."

A tweet by his anti-corruption foundation FBK on Thursday quoted Navalny as saying that doctors believed he could recover "90 percent, maybe 100 percent, but really nobody knows."

"Basically, I'm kind of a guinea pig, there aren't many people who continue to live after being poisoned with a nerve agent," the tweet added.

In the interview with the German magazine, Navalny also said that he was impressed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's knowledge of Russia, but called for a stern response from her government, saying "any Russia strategy must account for the depth of madness that Putin has now reached."

With the Kremlin still firm in its denial of responsibility, Russia's parliamentary speaker Vyacheslav Volodin accused Navalny of working with western countries. When asked about this claim, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Navalny was in cahoots with the CIA.

"We believe that such accusations against the president of Russia are absolutely unfounded and inadmissible," Peskov told a press call in response to a question by Kommersant FM.

"I will also say that we consider a number of these statements in the mentioned publication to be absolutely offensive and also unacceptable."

In keeping with the Kremlin tactic of never mentioning Navalny by name, Peskov said: "The non-patient [Navalny] probably works with western countries' special services, but it would be more correct to say western special services work with him," adding, "I can even say specifically, specialists from the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America are working with him these days."