BERLIN (AP) — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is recovering in Germany after being poisoned in Russia, said in comments published Thursday that only Russian President Vladimir Putin could have been behind the attack against him with a Soviet-era nerve agent.
Navalny’s supporters have frequently maintained that the poisoning could have only been ordered at the top level, although the Kremlin has repeatedly dismissed the allegation. German officials have said labs found traces of a chemical agent from the Novichok family in the Russian politician’s system.
Navalny, a corruption investigator who is Putin’s fiercest critic, was flown to Germany two days after falling ill on Aug. 20 on a domestic flight in Russia. He spent 32 days in the hospital, 24 of them in intensive care, before doctors deemed his condition sufficiently improved for him to be discharged.
He has posted frequent comments online as his recovery has progressed, but in his first interview since the attack, he told Germany’s Der Spiegel, “I assert Putin was behind the crime,” according to an English-language copy of his comments the magazine published online.
“I have no other explanation for what happened,” Navalny, 44, said.
He asserted that his poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent only could have been ordered by the heads of Russia’s military, domestic, or foreign intelligence agencies, officials who “cannot make a decision like that without being instructed by Putin. They report to him.”
The Kremlin on Thursday said that “such accusations against the Russian president are absolutely groundless and unacceptable.”
“Some of these statements in the mentioned publication we consider offensive,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. Peskov charged that there was information that “specialists” from the CIA were working with Navalny “these days” and giving him instructions.
“There is information that these instructors are working with him these days,” Peskov said. “Instructions the patient is receiving are obvious. We have seen such lines of behavior more than once.”
In response to Peskov’s comments, Navalny announced that he would sue the Kremlin spokesman and demanded that the alleged evidence of him working with the CIA be made public.
“If the authorities, on behalf of which Peskov speaks, have evidence of the nonsense he is talking about, then it’s a matter of Russia’s state security, and I demand that this evidence be published,” Navalny said in his blog.
Before he was transferred to Berlin for treatment, Navalny spent two days in a coma in a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk, where Russian doctors said they found no trace of any poisoning.
German chemical weapons experts determined that he was poisoned with the Soviet-era Novichok, the class of nerve agent that Britain said was used in a 2018 attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England. Labs in France and Sweden corroborated the German findings.
Navalny told Der Spiegel that when he first fell ill on the plane he was taking from Siberia to Moscow, he was sure he was dying as he collapsed to the floor.
“Then I hear voices growing ever quieter, and a woman calling: ‘Don’t leave us! Don’t leave us!’ Then it’s over. I know I’m dead,” he said in the interview.
“Only later would it turn out that I was wrong.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the poisoning an attempted murder and she and other world leaders have demanded that Russia fully investigate the case.
Merkel had personally offered Germany’s assistance in treating Navalny, and the politician said even though he had no real previous contacts with the country, “Germany has become a special country for me.”
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