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Business News/ News / World/  Alexei Navalny death: When Putin's critic was poisoned with 'Novichok' nerve agent in 2020
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Alexei Navalny death: When Putin's critic was poisoned with 'Novichok' nerve agent in 2020

While most of the Russian president's critics have fled Russia, Navalny continued as a leading voice for democracy in the country. A vociferous opponent of Putin, Navalny had a close call in August 2020 when he was poisoned at the end of a trip to Siberia with a Novichok nerve agent.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (File Photo: AP) (AP)Premium
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (File Photo: AP) (AP)

Russian opposition leader and President Vladimir Putin's staunch critic Alexei Navalny died in one of Russia's toughest penal colonies on February 16, according to the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service.

While most of the Russian president's critics have fled Russia, Navalny continued as a leading voice for democracy in the country despite facing numerous threats to his safety. He was an anti-corruption activist known for his unwavering commitment to political reform and transparency. A vociferous opponent of Putin, Navalny had a close call in August 2020 when he was poisoned at the end of a trip to Siberia with a Novichok nerve agent. 

Narrow escape in 2020

According to various reports, Navalny was poisoned with Novichok – a military-grade nerve agent developed by the former Soviet Union.

The incident occurred on August 20, 2020, when Navalny became severely ill during a flight to Moscow from Tomsk.

His team managed to take him to a hospital in Omsk after an emergency landing. Two days later, he was flown to a hospital in Berlin, where he recovered.

However, a suspicion of him being poisoned was later confirmed by independent laboratories in Germany, France, and Sweden.

German laboratory technicians in September 2020 concluded that Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent from the Novichok group.

The technicians had claimed that the poison was similar to the one the Russian military intelligence service (GRU) used against Sergei Skripal in a 2018 assassination attempt in the United Kingdom, where Skripal was living as a citizen. That attack landed Skripal, his daughter Yulia, and a British officer in the hospital and resulted in the death of another British citizen months later.

ALSO READ: 'Alexei Navalny felt unwell after walk, lost consciousness': Russian authority on Putin critic's death

In Navalny’s case, independent national labs in Sweden and Finland and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed the German lab’s findings.

An investigation team of independent journalists in December 2020 implicated Russia’s Federal Security Service in the poisoning. The media team comprised Bellingcat, a Netherlands-based investigative journalism group, The Insider, Der Spiegel of Germany, and CNN. This finding was later confirmed by the United States and others.

When the reports revealed of poisoning, Russian authorities began an aggressive disinformation campaign to deny their role in the attack.

Falsehoods

The Omsk hospital technicians said Navalny could have become ill because of alcohol use, fatigue, or poor diet. Putin loyalists and state-controlled media widely repeated that false theory.

Also, Russian officials and state-run media spread several false claims after the incident, including Navalny drinking 'village moonshine' before his flight, poisoning occurred in Germany and not in Russia, and Western governments were attempting to smear Russia by fabricating the account.

Between August 2020 and January 2021, according to EUvsDisinfo, pro-Kremlin media outlets published more than 200 false items about the poisoning.

ALSO READ: Vladimir Putin critic passes away in Russian prison — Who was Alexei Navalny?

Navalny's arrest and conviction

As he returned from Germany, Navalny was arrested in January 2021 and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for parole violations. In March 2022, he was sentenced to nine more years in a maximum security prison on charges of fraud and contempt. Last year, he was again convicted of extremism charges and sentenced to 19 years in jail. 

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Published: 16 Feb 2024, 07:47 PM IST
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