Navalny Poisoning: World Leaders pose tough questions for Russia
Updated: Oct 6
On the 20th of August, prominent Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny lay in a coma after being poisoned on his journey from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow, the Russian Capital.
Prior to his flight Alexei Navalny was captured calmly sipping a cup of tea at an airport cafe - it is this cup of tea that his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, suspects was laced with a military-grade chemical nerve agent. Almost immediately after take-off Navalny suddenly fell seriously ill; and in video footage captured by a passenger the prominent anti-corruption activist could be heard groaning in agony, prompting pilots to make an urgent emergency landing at Omsk. Waiting on the tarmac was an ambulance that was ready to rush Navalny, who had now lost consciousness, to the acute poisoning unit of Omsk Emergency Hospital.
The incident immediately garnered significant global attention and concern, and in a joint press conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron emphasised that they were ‘ready to provide all necessary assistance’ to Navalny and his family in terms of healthcare, asylum, and protection.
After a brief tug-of-war between Russian and German doctors on the stability of his condition, Navalny was successfully airlifted to The Charité University Hospital in Berlin where he is currently undergoing treatment.
On the 2nd of September, after almost two weeks of treatment at the renowned Charité University Hospital, German Government spokesman Steggen Seibert announced that extensive and rigorous tests carried out at a German military laboratory have revealed ‘unequivocal proof’ that Navalny was poisoned with a ‘chemical nerve agent from the Novichok Group’.
“The poison could be detected without a doubt in the samples”, added Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“He was supposed to be silenced, and I, together with the entire German Government, condemn this in the strongest possible terms."
The Novichok nerve agent identified in Alexei Navalny is from the same deadly class of agent that was used to poison Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the famous Salisbury Poisonings of 2018. Thus, the confirmation from German toxicologists that a nerve agent from the Novichok group was used to poison Navalny led many to ponder on whether the astounding attack was intended as a message to critics of the Kremlin.
“The Russian government has a clear case to answer”, said Dominic Raab, The UK’s Foreign Secretary.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that this banned chemical weapon has been used again, and once more we see violence directed against a leading Russian opposition figure”.
The French Government also called on Russia for answers, and in a statement Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian explained that he ‘condemn[s] in the strongest terms’ the ‘shocking and irresponsible’ use of nerve agents.
Le Drian also added that Mr. Navalny’s attack raises ‘serious questions’ due to his political status in Russia and urged Russian Authorities to answer all questions that may arise as a result of the incident.
All eyes are now on Russia as tough questions from world leaders on Navalny’s poisoning mount.
‘The Name Putin Dares not Speak’
Alexei Navalny, 44, is Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and anti-corruption activist who is often referred to as ‘one of Putin’s fiercest critics’.
Founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, Navalny is well known for being a powerful voice in anti-Kremlin politics. He is also well known for his tenacity in exposing and investigating corruption among government officials of all levels.
Despite being banned from appearing on state-approved television channels, Navalny has amassed a large social media following - with over 2.2. Million followers on Twitter, and 1.6 million Instagram followers (at the time of publication). Navalny’s unique use of social media not only introduced a new dynamic to opposition politics in Russia but created an avenue to powerfully challenge disinformation from Russian State media whilst simultaneously engaging an increasing number of young adults in Russian politics.
Navalny rose to global prominence after attempting to run against Vladimir Putin in the 2018 presidential election. And in 2020, The Guardian described Alexei Navalny as the ‘Name Putin Dares not Speak’.
‘Russia now has serious questions it must answer’
On Friday, NATO ambassadors called an urgent meeting in Brussels to discuss Navalny’s poisoning and the manner in which allies should respond.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stressed that the use of chemical weapons is “an unacceptable breach of international norms and rules”, and called for Russia to cooperate in an impartial investigation that is to be supervised by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed similar sentiments, articulating in a tweet that ‘it is outrageous’ that a chemical weapon was used against Alexei Navalny.
“We have seen first-hand the deadly consequences of Novichok in the UK. The Russian government must now explain what happened to Mr.Navalny - we will work with international partners to ensure justice is done”.
The Kremlin, however, has maintained that no traces of nerve agent were found in toxicology tests conducted by Russian doctors in Omsk.
“There are no grounds to accuse the Russian state, and we are not inclined to accept any accusations in this respect”, argued Dmitry Peskov, spokesman of The Kremlin.
Following Germany's report on Wednesday Russia’s Foreign Ministry has also posed questions for the Western European nation, suggesting that they have not provided enough evidence.
“Where are the facts? Where are the formulas? At least some kind of information?”, asked Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman of Russia’s Foreign Ministry.
Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman of The Kremlin, has however stressed that Russia is ready to cooperate in any investigations that have commenced.
In an incident closely reminiscent of the 2018 Salisbury Poisonings, world leaders must now tread tricky waters and brainstorm a strategy to receive answers from Russia on Navalny’s poisoning, whilst ensuring there is minimal diplomatic fallout between Russia and Western nations.
At time of publication, Navalny remains in Berlin where he is reported to be in ‘serious but stable’ condition.
Cardiff JOMEC grad and aspiring journalist based between the UK & Kenya.