MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday denied allegations that the Kremlin was behind the poisoning of his main political enemy, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and accused US intelligence agencies of fomenting the claims.
Speaking via video call during an annual marathon press conference, the Russian leader responded to the allegations by saying that if the Kremlin wanted to poison Navalny it would press the attack at home.
“ If there had been such a wish, it would have been done, ” Putin said with a chuckle.
Navalny fell ill on August 20 on a domestic flight to Russia, and was flown to Germany in a coma for treatment two days later. Laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden and tests from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons determined that he had been exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.
Russian authorities vehemently rejected allegations of involvement in the poisoning.
Monday, the Bellingcat investigative team and Russian channel The Insider released a report claiming that agents of the FSB, the Russian Homeland Security Agency, which is a major successor to the KGB, have followed Navalny on his travels since 2017, had `a specialized training in chemical weapons, chemistry and medicine ” and” were in the vicinity of the opposition activist in the days and hours of the time interval during which he was poisoned “.
The investigation, conducted by Bellingcat and The Insider in collaboration with CNN and Der Spiegel, identified alleged FSB agents and laboratories where poisons such as Novichok were produced after analyzing telephone metadata and flight information. He mentioned two cases in 2019 and 2020, in which Navalny or his wife Yulia suffered from unexplained symptoms.
Navalny said the investigation proved beyond doubt that FSB agents tried to kill him on Putin’s orders.
In his first comment following the publication of the report, Putin accused the new report of relying on data provided by US intelligence agencies, although its authors denied any connection with the US or other Western intelligence services.
“ It’s not some kind of investigation, it’s just the legalization of materials provided by US special services, ” he said, adding that it means Navalny “ is relying on the support of US special services. ”
“ It’s curious, and if that’s the case, special services really need to keep an eye on it, ” Putin said. “ But that doesn’t mean there is a need to poison him, who would need it? ”
He claimed Navalny was accusing the Kremlin of ordering him to poison him in order to raise his political profile as a leading opposition figure. No reasonable person would see such an approach as imperfect, ” he said.