President Vladimir Putin has denied Russia was involved in the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, citing that the Kremlin critic is “enjoying the support of the US special services” and that if Russia’s special services had wanted to kill him, they would have “finished” the job.
“It means that this patient of the Berlin clinic is supported by the special services, of the United States in this case,” Putin said before adding that “if this is correct, then it is interesting, then the special services, of course, should look after him.”
Whilst indirectly acknowledging that Russia was keeping an eye on Navalny, Putin stressed that “this does not mean at all that it is necessary to poison him,” the Russian President continued, also adding: “Who needs him? If they really wanted to, they probably would have finished it.”
Putin’s comments came in response to a question at his annual news conference, that was held on Thursday in a remote format due to the Coronavirus pandemic. They followed an investigation by the investigative group Bellingcat and The Insider, in cooperation with Der Spiegel and CNN, published earlier in the week, which unveiled evidence that Russia’s Federal Security Service (the FSB) formed an elite team specialising in nerve agents that trailed Navalny for years.
“This is not an investigation, this is the legalisation of material from American intelligence agencies,” Putin said, commenting on the Bellingcat investigation.
The 44-year-old Kremlin critic on August 20 fell ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing in Omsk, where he spent two days in hospital before being evacuated to Germany, where he received treatment for 32 days, including 24 days in intensive care. He was discharged in late September from Berlin Charite Hospital, after more than a month of treatment for poisoning with a nerve agent from the Novichok group.
While German authorities support there is “unequivocal” evidence he was poisoned, citing tests carried out in labs in Germany, France and Sweden, Moscow said it has yet to see evidence of a crime and refused to open a criminal investigation.
Reacting to Putin’s comments, Navalny tweeted that the Russian President “admitted it all, in his own way,” by blaming the CIA during his marathon press conference.
“He understood that it’s impossible to deny our ironclad proof,” the Kremlin critic said, adding that “in other words yes. The FSB followed me everywhere for four years but didn’t poison me. Because ‘if they’d wanted to, it would have worked out.”