Novichok found in Russia’s Navalny, says German government

Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny arrives at Charite clinic in Berlin, Germany, 22 August 2020 (reissued 02 September 2020). [EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN]

The German government announced on Wednesday (2 September) that tests performed on samples taken from Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is lying in a coma in Berlin after a suspected poisoning in Siberia last month, showed the presence of the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

Navalny, a politician and corruption investigator who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from Siberia on 20 August and was taken to a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk after the plane made an emergency landing.

He was later transferred to the Charité hospital, where doctors last week said there were indications that he had been poisoned.

Doctors said he may have been poisoned with a cholinesterase inhibitor, a substance found in nerve toxins such as the one used in the poisoning of a former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England in 2018.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement on Wednesday that testing by a special German military laboratory, the  had shown proof of “a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group.”

The Institute for Pharmacology and Toxicology of the German Armed Forces, InstPharmToxBw for short, conducts research in the medical field of protection against chemical warfare agents.

In addition, the institute is renowned for being capably of carrying out the verification, i.e. the unequivocal proof of poisoning by chemical warfare agents.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has met senior ministers to discuss next steps, the statement said.

Seibert said the German government will inform its partners in the EU and NATO about the test results and will consult with them “on an appropriate joint response” after Russia responds to the results.

The German government also said it will contact the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

“We hope for a full recovery of Alexei Navalny,” the statement added.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged Russia to investigate Navalny’s poisoning now that clinical tests had shown he had been attacked with a chemical nerve agent.

“This makes it all the more urgent that those responsible in Russia be identified and held accountable,” Maas told reporters. “We condemn this attack in the strongest terms.”

A Kremlin spokesman said Germany had not informed it that Berlin believed Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok, according to the RIA news agency.

Earlier, Russia asked Germany to provide exhaustive details of medical tests conducted on Navalny, Russian newspaper RBC reported on Wednesday.

The paper reported that the general prosecutor’s office had asked Germany’s justice ministry for information on Navalny’s treatment, including test results for drugs, poisons, heavy metals and cholinesterase inhibitors, which affect the nervous system.

Speaking on Monday (31 August) to French ambassadors in Paris, German foreign minister Heiko Maas had warned of “dark clouds” hanging over Europe’s bilateral ties with Moscow, saying the continent’s security was at risk.

“Of course, we have the expectation that Russia should contribute more to clearing up the Navalny case than it is doing at the moment,” he said.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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