MOSCOW (REUTERS) - The nerve agent used to poison Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was detected on an empty water bottle from his hotel room in the Siberian city of Tomsk, suggesting he was poisoned there and not at the airport as first thought, his team said on Thursday (Sept 17).
Navalny fell violently ill on a flight in Russia last month and was airlifted to Berlin for treatment. Laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden have established he was poisoned by a Novichok nerve agent, a poison developed by the Soviet military, though Russia denies this and says it has seen no evidence.
A video posted on Navalny’s Instagram account showed members of his team searching the room he had just left in the Xander Hotel in Tomsk on Aug 20, an hour after they learned he had fallen sick in suspicious circumstances.
“It was decided to gather up everything that could even hypothetically be useful and hand it to the doctors in Germany.
The fact that the case would not be investigated in Russia was quite obvious,” the post said.
The video of the abandoned hotel room shows two water bottles on a desk, and another on a bedside table. Navalny’s team, wearing protective gloves, are seen placing items into blue plastic bags.
“Two weeks later, a German laboratory found traces of Novichok precisely on the bottle of water from the Tomsk hotel room,” the post said.
“And then more laboratories that took analyses from Alexei confirmed that that was what poisoned Navalny. Now we understand: it was done before he left his hotel room to go to the airport.”
Previously, Navalny’s aides had said they suspected he had been poisoned with a cup of tea he drank at Tomsk airport.
Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister and an ally of Navalny, said his team had outmanoeuvred the FSB security service with their quick thinking: “They took the evidence from under their noses and shipped it out of the country.”
Navalny’s ally Georgy Alburov told Reuters “the bottles flew with Alexei” when he was airlifted to Germany on Aug 22.
Navalny is the most prominent political opponent of President Vladimir Putin, even though he has not been allowed to form his own party. His investigations of official corruption, published on YouTube and Instagram, have reached audiences of many millions across Russia.
Germany, France, Britain and other nations have demanded explanations from Russia, and there have been calls for new sanctions against Moscow.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Thursday that Germany had asked it for technical assistance.
Russia has carried out pre-investigation checks, but said it needs to see more medical analysis before it can open a formal criminal investigation.
The head of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation in Moscow, Ivan Zhdanov, told Reuters that an investigator from Tomsk had visited its office on Wednesday and wanted to talk to two of its employees who were with the politician on his visit to Siberia.
The European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the attempted assassination of Navalny and calling for an international investigation into the case and into alleged Russian breaches of its international commitments on chemical weapons. The text is not binding on EU member states.
Sergei Erofeev, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said on Facebook that a group of academics from prominent universities had nominated Navalny for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the prize, does not confirm or deny nominations. Nominations for the 2020 prize closed on Jan. 31, so any new ones would have to wait until 2021.