Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny said he believes Russia’s intelligence services poisoned him with a Novichok nerve agent because authorities saw him as a threat ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.
“They understood that there were big, big problems threatening them ahead of elections for the State Duma,” Navalny said in a YouTube interview with a Russian blogger, his first video appearance since being discharged from a Berlin hospital.
The outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin emerged from a coma in September after collapsing on a domestic flight in Siberia on August 20.
A laboratory in Germany said on September 2 it had confirmation of nerve-agent usage, followed by laboratories in France and Sweden on September 14.
Germany, France and other Western countries have demanded an explanation from the Kremlin for Navalny’s illness.
But the Kremlin has rejected any suggestion that Putin or the Russian authorities were responsible for Navalny’s condition.
Navalny said he did not know how a Novichok nerve agent had got into his system, but that it could have been on a surface he touched. He said his recovery could take another two months, holding out his hand at one point in the interview to show it shaking.
Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh had initially said she believed that tea Navalny drank at the airport was poisoned, but on September 17, his team said the nerve agent was detected on an empty water bottle from his hotel room in the Tomsk, suggesting he was poisoned there and not at the airport.
Navalny said he was undergoing physical therapy, but that his health had improved significantly and doctors were surprised at the speed of his recovery.
Russian regional elections took place across three days from September 11 to 13, a political event which saw some of Navalny’s allies make gains. Russia’s parliamentary elections are due to take place in September next year, although some media reports have suggested they could be brought forward to earlier in the year.
MEPs have called for sanctions against Russia, saying on September 17, “The poison used, belonging to the ‘Novichok group’, can only be developed in state-owned military laboratories and cannot be acquired by private individuals, which strongly implies that Russian authorities were behind the attack.”
For its part, Moscow rejects what it called the politicisation of the issue.