Explained: Why has Russia detained opposition leader Alexei Navalny?
russian authorities detained leader of the opposition Alexei Navalny at a Moscow airport on Sunday after returning from Germany for the first time since being poisoned in August last year. Following this, the United States and European countries demanded that Navalny be released from detention.
On August 20 of last year, Navalny fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from Siberia. After the plane made an emergency landing, he was first taken to a hospital in the city of Omsk, from where he was later transferred to Charite Hospital in Berlin while he was still in a coma. Tests carried out at the German hospital showed the presence of the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.
Navalny claimed the poisoning was committed by Russian authorities, who denied any involvement in the attack.
Who is Alexeï Navalny?
Navalny, a lawyer turned activist, rose to prominence in 2008 after he began speaking out against corruption in Russian politics via a blog. In 2018, he was banned from running against Putin in the presidential elections.
He has also been arrested on several occasions and since starting his political campaign, Navalny has spearheaded many anti-corruption rallies in Russia and is considered the face of the opposition in Russia, a known country. for a long time to eliminate dissidents and spies. poisoning them.
What happened to him?
In August, Kremlin critic Navalny was placed on life support in a Siberian hospital after consuming a cup of tea suspected of being poisoned.
Navalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter that while Navalny flew back to Moscow, he felt bad as a result of which the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk. She added that Navalny had toxic poisoning. According to a report by Bellingcat and The Insider, poison-trained Russian intelligence operatives, who had been stalking Navalny for years, were nearby at this time.
“We assume Alexei was poisoned with something mixed with tea. It was the only thing he drank in the morning. Doctors say the toxin was absorbed faster by the hot liquid. Alexey is now unconscious.” Yarmysh wrote on the social media platform in August.
But it was not the first time that Navalny had faced such a situation. Last year Navalny was hospitalized after suffering an allergic reaction in prison, possibly due to an unknown chemical. Two years earlier, Navalny had been sprayed with a bright green liquid in the Siberian town of Barnaul by an assailant who pretended to shake his hand.
Last month, Navalny said he tricked a Russian intelligence agent into confessing to the botched attempt to kill him in August and disclosing that the poison meant to do the job was placed inside the underwear by Navalny.
In a YouTube video titled “I called my killer. He confessed, ”said Navalny speaking at length on the phone with the intelligence officer, who Navalny and the Bellingcat investigative research group say is a Federal Security Service (FSB) chemical weapons specialist. Russian.
In the video, Navalny is seen speaking pragmatically and telling the man on the other side of the phone that he was preparing an urgent report on “what was wrong” with the alleged poisoning plot, and why Navalny survived.
A few minutes after the call began, the man believed to be Konstantin Kudryavtsev confessed that the motive for the mission was to kill Navalny, and that the dissident was able to survive the attempt thanks to the emergency landing that the pilot carried out in Omsk, and due to the “rapid intervention of paramedics on the track”.
What has been the reaction of Russia?
Russian authorities have denied having played a role in the poisoning of Navalny.
According to a report by the TASS news agency, the FSB called the video clip “fake” and said Navalny’s investigation was a “planned provocation aimed at discrediting the FSB which could not have been carried out without the organizational and technical support of international intelligence agencies. ”
Last month Russian President Vladimir Putin said Navalny “relies on the support of US special services”. He said, “It’s odd, and in this case, special services do have to keep an eye on him. But that does not mean that it is necessary to poison him. Who would need this?
The Russian leader, who is entering his 22nd year in office, even told reporters with a laugh that if Russian agents wanted to kill Navalny, “they would probably have finished the job.”
In an opinion piece in the New York Times in August last year, Russian journalist Oleg Kashin wrote: “If the Russian government has now decided to get rid of Mr. Navalny, it suggests that he is building a new political configuration in which there is no more need for any kind of opposition.
“… Navalny has really occupied an important place in the political system for many years with his unique monopoly on the segment of the opposition which refuses to compromise with the Kremlin,” he added.
Other poisonings suspected by Russia
Sergey Skripal: On March 4, 2018, former Russian spy Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal were found unconscious on a bench in the UK town of Salisbury after being poisoned by a military grade nerve agent Novichok. The two have since recovered, including Police Officer Nick Bailey, one of the first responders who fell seriously ill after being exposed to the nerve agent.
The only person who died from the exposure was a 44-year-old woman who died a few months later when she came into contact with the nerve agent. The woman was on display there after coming into contact with a counterfeit perfume bottle that had been thrown in Salisbury.
In 2006, Skripal was sentenced to 13 years in prison after being accused of spying for Britain. At the time, Russia claimed that the British intelligence service MI6 paid it $ 100,000 for revealing the identity of Russian secret agents in Europe. After his conviction, Skripal was pardoned in 2010 by then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
After the poisoning, all Russian intelligence operatives working under diplomatic cover in the UK and many other countries were deported. The United States has expelled more than 60 of these officers. The investigation by the British government later revealed that the poisonings were an assassination attempt carried out by agents of the Russian intelligence service called GRU.
The poisonings of the Skripals are also the subject of the BBC One drama “The Salisbury Poisonings”. According to some reports, Skripal and her daughter are now staying in New Zealand under new identities.
Piotr Verzilov: Months after Skripal, an anti-Kremlin activist and Putin critic who is a member of the Russian protest group called Pussy Riot fell ill after a poisoning attempt which Verzilov said was carried out by the intelligence services Russian. After falling ill in September 2018, he was evacuated from Moscow to Berlin, where doctors confirmed his symptoms corresponded to poisoning.
He told the BBC in 2018 that the reasons they might have tried to poison him could be his participation in a pitch invasion in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final, after which Verzilov and three others. Pussy Riot members were briefly jailed. The other reason cited by Verzilov was to investigate the case of three Russian journalists who were “murdered” in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Vladimir Kara-Mourza: In 2017, Putin critic and journalist Kara-Murza fell into a coma after an alleged poisoning attempt. In 2015, Kara-murza almost died and suffered sudden kidney failure after another suspected poisoning attempt. According to a New York Times report, after the 2015 attempt, a French lab found high levels of heavy metals in his blood. Kara-Murza has since recovered and resides in Moscow.
Alexander Litvinenko: Former spy Litvinenko, who was paid by MI6 and investigating Spanish ties to Russia, was killed in November 2006 after ingesting a lethal dose of polonium 210 while drinking tea at the Millenium Hotel in London. At the time, he was meeting Russian politician Andrei Lugovoy and his partner Dmitri Kovtun. Lugovoy is considered one of the main suspects.
Litvinenko did not survive, while Russia continues to deny any involvement in the incident. Litvinenko was an officer of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, and was fired in 1998 after making public allegations of illegal activities within the FSB. He left Russia in 2000 and in 2001 was granted asylum in Britain.
An investigative report into his death published in 2016 by the British Inquiry concluded: “Taking into account all the evidence and analysis available to me, I see that the FSB operation to kill Mr. Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr. Patrushev and also by President Putin.
Viktor Yushchenko: In 2004, Yushchenko was poisoned in the middle of an election campaign, during which he had to defeat the candidate supported by Russia. Yushchenko ingested dioxin, a chemical found in Agent Orange while dining with the head of Ukraine’s security services.
The poisoning severely disfigured his face and the results of his tests showed that he suffered from chloracne, caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. Yushchenko finally recovered and won the presidential elections that year. He accused the Ukrainian authorities of trying to poison him.
Russia has long been known to use poison as a means of eliminating political dissidents and spies. An article published by the Atlantic Council, a think tank, claims that many victims of Putin’s assassins “serve as useful symbols of what happens to anyone accused of betraying or deceiving the Kremlin.” Significantly, not all assassination attempts have been successful recently, suggesting a decline in professionalism, “as Russia seeks to deploy more assassins abroad.”
Add to this that since the Cold War, the Soviet Union has invested heavily in developing poisons as a means of targeting enemies, according to a Foreign Policy article. In 1921, Laboratory 12 was established on the outskirts of Moscow and researched poisons, drugs, and psychotropic substances, providing the Kremlin with an array of tools to choose from.