Foreign Minister of Germany says Moscow was behind the poisoning of Putin critic Alexei Navalny as recent medical reports emerge.

On December 23, 2020, following the latest media reports, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas asserted that Russia was behind the poisoning of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny.

Talking to the German Press Agency (DPA), Maas stated that the reports which claimed Navalny had been poisoned with the chemical nerve agent Novichok are "neither new nor surprising."

He said; "The fact that this has now been reappraised and corroborated by journalistic research is a confirmation for us."

Reminding the sanctions imposed by the EU against those it holds responsible for Navalny's poisoning, he added that he did not expect the reports to prompt further consequences.

The comments of German foreign minister came a day after Russia’s retaliation against the sanctions by banning the entry of German government representatives into the country. 

Commenting on Russia’s retaliation, Maas said; "This Russian reaction follows a familiar pattern, but it is not a contribution to the solution." 

"After all, the Navalny case is not about a bilateral dispute. It's about a serious violation of the international ban on chemical weapons in Russia," he added.

This week, a report published by the medical journal called ‘The Lancet’, doctors from the  hospital in Berlin where Navalny was treated said a poison called Novichok was found in Putin critic’s bloodstream after his admission to the hospital in August.

On August 20, Putin critic Navalny became seriously ill during a domestic flight in Russia and following his initial treatment at a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk was evacuated to Berlin, Germany. 

Navalny fell ill after boarding a plane in Siberia, with aides saying they suspect he drank a cup of spiked tea at the airport.

What happened and who is Alexei Navalny

Navalny is an outspoken critic  of Russian President Vladmir Putin and he runs the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). According to its mission statement, the foundation is “the only Russian NGO that leads public campaigns to fight corruption, protect civil rights and monitor the actions of authorities”.

Russian authorities have tried to deal with Navalny before. He once faced trial on embezzlement charges in a timber case, accused of committing a crime that was, as the New Yorker described it, “both impossible and absurd”.

As a result of the trial, Navalny was convicted in July 2013 and sentenced to five years in prison, yet his conviction ushered in a great protest in Moscow that thousands attended, despite the risk of facing fines or arrest themselves. Navalny was released the next day.

The key opposition figure also ran for mayor of Moscow in the September 2013 election, coming second in a race with six candidates.

In November 2013, Navalny and his brother Oleg were accused of committing fraud in connection with a shipping company Navalny had helped set up for his brother. After a year of house arrest, Navalny was sentenced to further house arrest while Oleg was sent to jail. 

Navalny was trailed by prison authority officers until, a month later, they stopped. He interpreted the move to the New Yorker, stating: “It’s obvious that Putin personally makes decisions about my fate. As he does with many things, Putin personally makes a lot of the decisions in the country.”

“So the number of people standing in line to get a decision from Putin is so large that the person in that line holding a folder with the name Navalny on it has to wait a very long time,” Navalny added.

This was not the only time Navalny had a brush with the authorities. According to human rights group Amnesty International, he was “previously jailed for 15 days in March 2017, 30 days in June 2017, 20 days in October 2017, 15 days in May 2018 and 30 days in August 2018 for his role in organising mass protests across the country”.

In May 2017, an attacker threw a green chemical in his face, resulting in an 80 percent loss of his sight in one eye, the New York Times reported. Navalny wrote in his blog that while his eyesight might recover, he was banned from seeking treatment overseas by Moscow, which refused to issue him a passport.

“Aleksei Navalny’s name has long been synonymous with peaceful protest and tightening restrictions on freedom of assembly in Russia. Since March last year, thousands of people across Russia have responded to his call to join mass peaceful protests against the authorities on issues ranging from corruption to pension reform,” said Natalia Zviagina, Director of Amnesty International’s Office in Russia in a statement in 2018.

Calling Navalny “a prisoner of conscience”, Zviagina demanded that Russian authorities “fully respect“ his right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Germany and Russia have been at odds

Like some other European countries and international organisations, Germany had previously said there was "unequivocal evidence" he was poisoned with Novichok but Russia dismissed the findings, saying its doctors found no trace of poison.

Western politicians have insisted the incident appears likely to have been state-ordered. The Kremlin has denounced attempts to blame the Russian state as "absurd."

Despite international calls for Russia to carry out a transparent investigation or risk sanctions, it has not opened a criminal probe.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted Russia "de facto" is probing the incident but can not open a criminal case "on the basis of tests by the German side, especially when carried out in German military labs."

Source: TRT World