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Kremlin rejects findings that leading opposition figure was poisoned

Doctors treating Alexei Navalny since he was airlifted out of Siberia have said lab analyses showed he was poisoned.
Image: The Charite hospital where Russian dissident Alexei Navalny is being treated, Berlin,
The Charite hospital where Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is being treated in Berlin.Christoph Soeder / AP

MOSCOW — The Kremlin on Tuesday denied having anything to do with the apparent poisoning of Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.

"We cannot take these accusations seriously," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow. "Let's put it this way: Accusations that simply cannot be true in any way are empty noise. We do not intend to take them seriously."

Peskov also said that German doctors claiming to have found evidence of poisoning were rushing to conclusions.

Image: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally in Moscow, Russia
Alexei Navalny.Shamil Zhumatov / Reuters

The Charité Clinic in Berlin, which has been treating Navalny since he was airlifted out of Siberia by a German ambulance flight on Saturday, issued a statement Monday saying lab analyses showed Navalny was poisoned with a substance used in nerve agents.

“It is important here to calmly analyze what was said and written,” Peskov added. “We have not learned anything new here. ... Unfortunately, the substance cannot be identified. The analysis done by both our doctors and German doctors is the same. But the conclusions differ.”

Navalny fell seriously ill on a flight last week, forcing the plane to do an emergency landing in the Siberian city of Omsk, where he spent two days on a ventilator and in a coma in what doctors described as critical condition.

He was airlifted to Germany on Saturday after two days of lobbying by his family and supporters. While airlift was possible sooner, doctors in Omsk insisted Navalny was in no condition to travel, although his associates say authorities were stalling to allow any poison in his system to dissipate.

Navalny is one of Russia's best-known figures. An outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, he has spent much of the past decade in opposition politics as part of an anti-corruption investigation, publishing slick YouTube videos detailing official corruption at all levels.

These efforts have earned him many enemies in Russia beyond the Kremlin's walls.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Tuesday that the United States was "deeply concerned" by reported preliminary conclusions from German medical experts that Navalny was poisoned.

"If the reports prove accurate, the United States supports the EU’s call for a comprehensive investigation and stands ready to assist in that effort," the statement said.

"Navalny’s family and the Russian people deserve to see a full and transparent investigation carried out, and for those involved to be held accountable," it said.

Navalny would not be the first opponent of Moscow or Putin to be poisoned. Activist Petr Verzilov was poisoned in 2018, and like Navalny he fell into a coma and was evacuated to Berlin. In 2015, another opposition figure, Vladimir Kara-Murza, was similarly poisoned.

The Charite statement said that whatever substance was used on Navalny, while not yet identified, belonged to a group of cholinesterase inhibitors — which are used in pesticides, have some limited medical applications and are also used in chemical weapons.

“The effect of the poison — namely, the inhibition of cholinesterase in the body — was confirmed by multiple tests in independent laboratories,” Charite said in its statement Monday. “As a result of this diagnosis, the patient is now being treated with the antidote atropine.”

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Doctors in Omsk have said that they did not find any sign of poisoning while tending to Navalny. The chief doctor of the Omsk hospital, Alexander Murakhovsky, reiterated this several times at a news conference Monday morning.

Navalny associates and supporters have suggested that the medical analysis in Omsk was subject to pressure from the Russian security services. Murakhovsky on Monday denied that there was any kind of outside influence on his analysis of Navalny’s condition.

"I can say, as I have already said, that we treated the patient and saved him,” Murakhovsky said in response to a journalist from an independent Russian TV station. "There was not, and could not have been, any kind of influence on the patient's treatment."