On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin rejected reports that Russia’s security services were behind the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, saying that if they were, the opposition leader would not live.
Navalny, 44, became seriously ill during a flight from Siberia to Moscow in August and was hospitalized in the Russian city of Omsk before being transported to Berlin by medical aircraft.
Experts from several Western countries concluded that the Kremlin critic was poisoned by the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok – a claim that Moscow has repeatedly denied.
A joint media report this week revealed what it said were the names and pictures of chemical weapons experts from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) who had tailed Navalny for several years.
Speaking to journalists at his annual press conference at the end of the year, Putin described the report as “legalizing material from the US special services” and added that the Kremlin critic “has his support”.
The Russian leader said that if Navalny was supported by US special services, Russia should of course tail him.
“But that does not mean at all that it is necessary to poison him. Who needs him?” In Putin.
If the Russian special services had wanted to poison Navalny, they would have taken it to the end, he said.
‘Putin acknowledged everything’
The joint report on Navalny led by the investigative website Bellingcat said that FSB agents have regularly shadowed the opposition leader since 2017.
Bellingcat said it had concluded based on data sets, including phone logs and travel records.
The joint report with CNN, Der Spiegel and the Russian office The Insider did not establish direct contact between the 44-year-old opposition leader and the named agents.
A joint investigation between Bellingcat and The Insider, in collaboration with Der Spiegel and CNN, has uncovered extensive telecom and travel data implicating Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in the poisoning of Alexey Navalny. https://t.co/ACbA2gkV2H
– Bellingcat (@bellingcat) December 14, 2020
Navalny said Thursday that Putin’s comments were acknowledged.
“Putin acknowledged everything,” the Kremlin critic wrote on Twitter. “That’s, yes, the FSB tailed me for four years.”
Navalny had previously said that Putin was behind his poisoning and that he will return to Russia when he has fully recovered in Germany.
In response to the poisoning, the European Union has imposed a travel ban and frozen bank accounts for six people suspected of being responsible, including FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov.