Alexei Navalny, the anti-Putin opposition leader who has been subject to multiple attacks from the Russian government and Putin supporters, is now investigating his August 2020 poisoning with Bellingcat, an investigative journalism website.
Who is Alexei Navalny?
Alexei Navalny began his career as a lawyer and first became known to the public in 2008 when he published proof of embezzlement by major Russian corporations and spearheaded trials against Russia’s state-owned oil giants such as Gazprom, Rosneft, Transneft, Gazpromneft.
Navalny continued his work to expose corruption in Russia by establishing the Anti-Corruption Foundation in 2011. In 2013 he became active in the Russian electoral scene. In 2015, the Anti-Corruption Foundation published a documentary entitled, “Chaika”, which exposed the Prosecutor General of Russia Yuri Chaika’s connections to the Tsapok gang from Kushchevskaya village. This led to Navalny’s attorney license being revoked. In 2017, Navalny and the Anti-Corruption Foundation published another investigative documentary, “Do Not Call Him Dimon”, which exposed the “secret empire” and the ultra-wealthy life of Prime Minister, Dmitriy Medvedev.
Navalny also attempted to run to for President in 2018. Despite his popularity, or rather due to his popularity, Navalny was banned from participating in the elections due to baseless accusations of embezzlement from the Kirovles lumber company. Not only was Navalny excluded from the presidential election in March 2018, but he also endured multiple humiliating trials over nonsensical claims of embezzlement, a dousing of his face in green dye by pro-Putin activists in 2017 which left him temporarily blind, and another alleged poisoning in July of last year.
What happened in August 2020?
On August 20th, Navalny was poisoned by what has now been reported by German officials as the infamous Novichok nerve agent. Although the 2019 attack was written off as nothing more than an “allergic reaction” by the local government, Anastasiya Vasilievna, Alexei Navalny’s personal doctor, denies these claims.
Navalny boarded a plane heading to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk. Less than an hour after take off, Navalny fell ill and rushed to the toilet.
Witnesses say Navalny laid on the floor screaming in pain. Sergey Nezhenets, a lawyer and fellow passenger on the same S7 flight told the BBC: “When he was moaning, the rest of us felt better, in a way because we could tell he was at least still alive. I stress, at that point I didn’t know it was Navalny.”
The plane made an emergency landing in the city of Omsk where Navalny was immediately offered medical assistance and speculations that Navalny had been poisoned soon emerged. It remains unknown what the medical team’s first response was and why they diagnosed Navalny with a metabolic disorder he clearly does not have. Navalny’s personal doctor and wife were both denied visiting rights and could not transfer him to a different hospital while he was in a clinically induced coma. The attack was simply written off as nothing more than an “allergic reaction” by the local government, but Anastasiya Vasilievna, Alexei Navalny’s personal doctor, denies these claims. Finally, after two days of negotiation, Navalny was airlifted to the Charité Clinic in Berlin, where it was confirmed that he had in fact been poisoned. As of now, Navalny is still in recovery in Germany.
What has the investigation concluded?
Bellingcat, in collaboration with Navalny and his team, has investigated the poisoning. Major outlets including Der Spiegel, El País and CNN have also carefully followed the investigation. Bellingcat’s Cristo Grozev has previously successfully uncovered the poisoning of the Skripal family and was also involved in the Navalny investigation. Navalny has detailed the process and outcome of the investigation in a now viral, almost hour-long Youtube video titled, “The Case is Solved. I know everyone who attempted to murder me”.
Three males have been identified as suspects in the attempted murder- Alexey Alexandrov, Ivan Osipov, both medical doctors, and Vladimir Panyaev.
After Navalny’s announcement to run for president in 2017, he campaigned around the country, travelling city to city. Between 2017 and 2020 the suspects, under fake identities, followed Navalny to 37 of his work trips. They targeted trips in which Navalny would stay overnight at a hotel. A detailed timeline of phone calls and movement of the suspects has been put together by Bellingcat.
In the two months prior to Navalny’s poisoning, his wife, Yulia, was allegedly the target of a failed attempted poisoning while on a trip with Navalny. However, the dosage of Novichok was likely not high enough for her to be killed but left her feeling unwell for a day.
The three male suspects have since been identified as Federal Security Service’s (FSB) chemical weapon experts who specialize in organophosphate toxins, a family of toxins to which the deadly Novichok belongs to.
It is important to keep in mind that in 1997 Russia joined the International Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Stockpiling, and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction. Since the time the convention came into effect, by the order of President Putin, Russia has allegedly stopped the production of chemical weapons and destroyed all chemical weapons stockpiled. No individual has the authority or power to produce a chemical such as Novichok.
Navalny concluded that he was ordered to be killed by President Putin himself. The Kremlin denies all claims of involvement and no formal investigation has been launched.
President Putin, a former KGB agent himself, has commented on Navalny’s poisoning that if he was really poisoned, he would be dead. As a response, Bellingcat Eliot Higgins tweeted that Putin is “trying to sound strong after his intelligence services have been humiliated”.
In a follow-up video, Navalny called one of his attempted murderers undercover as a fellow FSB agent and spoke to him on the phone. The chemical weapon expert admitted to the operation being a failure and attributed Navalny’s survival to the medics’ rapid response.
The poisoning of Navalny proves that it is as dangerous now as ever to be in opposition to Putin’s regime. After all, Navalny’s poisoning is not an exclusive case. Similarly, just a few years ago, in 2018, the Skripal family was poisoned with Novichok in Salisbury, United Kingdom. In 2015, Boris Nemtsov, a prominent anti-Putin politician was assassinated just a few hundred meters away from the Red Square. In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB officer, was killed by the radioactive polonium-210. Navalny is just another chess piece in Putin’s game.
Despite the threat of another potential attack, Navalny is eager to return to Russia and continue his work, but the general public is afraid for his life and many advise him not to return. After publishing the investigation online Navalny has been interrogated by the German police on request from the Russain government. Navalny is now being investigated by the Russian authorities for fraud and mishandling 5 million USD in donations to the Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Image by Evgeny Feldman via WikiMedia