Immediately after Aleksei A. Navalny, the top Russian opposition leader, showed symptoms of poisoning last month, members of his team rushed to the Siberian hotel where he was staying and grabbed anything that could be used. as evidence, including a bottle of water that tests showed was contaminated with a highly toxic nerve agent.
Although Russia claims it played no role in Mr. Navalny’s poisoning, the new details – released Thursday in a post on Mr. Navalny’s Instagram account – underscore his team’s deep concerns about his well-being and fears. who could do it. fall victim to the type of attacks directed at other Kremlin critics.
The plastic water bottle, say Mr. Navalny’s team and German investigators, ultimately helped German military scientists determine that the opposition leader had been poisoned with a chemical weapons class called Novichok, a poison designed by the Soviets which at least the Russian agents used. a previous assassination attempt.
The rush to gather evidence suggests that Mr. Navalny and his team were prepared for the eventuality of an attempt on his life. Indeed, during meetings with supporters from all over Russia, he was often asked how he survived, given his fierce criticism of the Kremlin and Russia’s most powerful figures.
His continued existence even fueled conspiracy theories that he was actually a government puppet, paid to play the role of an opposition figure, never actually seeking power.
On August 20, those doubts were silenced when Mr. Navalny started choking and screaming on a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk.
Immediately after Mr. Navalny’s plane made an emergency landing, his aides contacted squad members who had remained in Tomsk to tell them what had happened, according to Mr. Navalny’s Instagram post.
“At that moment, they did the only thing that was possible,” the statement said. “They called a lawyer, went to the hotel room, which Navalny had just left, and started identifying, recording and packaging everything they found, including the hotel water bottles.”
When Mr. Navalny was there flew from a Siberian hospital in Berlin on 22 August, evidence accompanied him. It is unclear how Mr. Navalny’s team managed to sneak the bottle and other items out of the country without Russian officials knowing.
Russia has insisted ever since Mr. Navalny first got sick that he was not poisoned, and instead offered a number of alternative theories, as if he was using cocaine or that he had low blood sugar and had you just need to eat some candy. These statements convinced Mr. Navalny’s team that the Russian authorities had no interest in conducting a real investigation.
“It was absolutely clear to us that Navalny was not mildly ill or overheated and that a Raffaello candy would not help,” the Instagram post reads. “So we decided to take everything that could hypothetically be useful and give it to doctors in Germany.”
An analysis conducted by German military scientists from the Munich Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology 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 believes he was poisoned in that hotel room, not at the airport as they had initially suspected.
Laboratories in France and Sweden this week confirmed German findings that Mr. Navalny had been poisoned with a nerve agent from the Novichok family. A similar poison was used by Russian military intelligence agents who traveled to Britain in 2018 to attack Sergei V. Skripal, a former intelligence officer who had served prison in Russia for espionage for the British before being mistaken for a spy swap.
Given the substance used, German authorities and others say there is no doubt that the Russian government was behind the poisoning, a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention to which it is a signatory.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the global supervisory body on chemical weapons, is expected to release in the coming days the results of its analysis of the biomedical samples collected by Mr. Navalny by his team of experts, the agency said in a letter. statement on Thursday.
If those results confirm the results of Germany, France and Sweden, the German government would move swiftly to impose financial sanctions on Russia via the European Union, according to a senior German security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss deliberations. internal.
“We don’t doubt our own achievement,” the official said. “It’s just to give it even more political legitimacy.”