Germany and France say Russia is responsible for Navalny poisoning

Germany and France directly accuse Russia of ‘involvement and responsibility’ in the poisoning of Putin-foe Alexei Navalny

  • Countries say there is ‘no other plausible explanation’ for the attack on Navalny
  • Germany and France said they would now seek EU sanctions against Russia
  • Opposition figure Navalny fell ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow in August 
  • He is recovering in Germany where he has been receiving treatment for months

Germany and France have directly accused Russia of ‘involvement and responsibility’ in the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, adding that they will seek European Union sanctions over the case.

‘No credible explanation has been provided by Russia so far,’ a joint statement issued by the French and German foreign ministers on Wednesday said.

‘In this context, we consider that there is no other plausible explanation for Mr Navalny’s poisoning than Russian involvement and responsibility.’ 

Opposition figure Alexei Navalny fell ill on a flight from Siberia on August 20 and was later found to have been poisoned with Novichok – a Soviet nerve agent

Navalny fell ill on a flight from Siberia on August 20 and was later found to have been poisoned with Novichok – a Soviet nerve agent. 

Supporters and family speculated that the poison was put into a tea Navalny drank at the airport before he boarded the plane. 

He is currently recovering in Germany after being allowed to leave Russia for treatment there several days after the attack. 

On Tuesday, the Kremlin critic appeared on video for the first time since being discharged from a hospital in Berlin, showing the effects of the poisoning. 

Navalny held his trembling hand up to the camera in the footage, recorded just six days after he was released.   

‘My hands shake. If I were to drink water from a bottle it would be quite a sight right now,’ he said in the video. 

‘I’m getting better with each day. I’m working with a physiotherapist.’ 

Navalny has been a thorn in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s side for several years and is just the latest in a string of high-profile opponents to Putin’s government to be attacked

Speaking on how long he will stay in Germany to work on his recovery, he said: ‘It could very well be three weeks or two months. Definitely not a year,’ adding that doctors have admitted they have little experience of such a case.

The video was released as a global chemical weapons watchdog confirmed that the presence of a nerve agent in the banned Novichok family had been found in blood samples taken from Navalny.  

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement that the biomarkers in his blood and urine had ‘similar structural characteristics as the toxic chemicals belonging’ to the Novichok group.

The findings confirmed results released earlier by Germany. Berlin asked the OPCW to take samples from Navalny and test them after German doctors concluded he had been poisoned with Novichok.  

‘No doubt Novichok nerve agent used to poison Alexey #Navalny,’ Britain’s delegation at the OPCW said on Twitter. 

‘Any use of a banned chemical weapon is a matter of great concern.’ 

The Kremlin has continuously denied any involvement in the incident and says it is yet to see any evidence that Navalny was poisoned.

A previously little-known substance, Novichok hit headlines worldwide in 2018 when five people in the English town of Salisbury were poisoned using the nerve agent. 

What are the symptoms of Novichok and how does it linger?

Police have confirmed that a man and a woman from Amesbury, who are in a critical condition, have been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok.

It is the same substance used in the attack and poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.

– What is Novichok?

A group of nerve agents which are more potent and lethal than VX or sarin.

They are made of two separate non-toxic substances that work as a nerve agent when brought together.

Dr Andrea Sella, professor of inorganic chemistry at University College London, said: “Novichok is not really very different from all the classics, you’ve got the same basic chemical framework at the heart of it.

“I’m not sure it’s ever really been used. There’s not much experience of seeing these things, they would have recognised it was some sort of nerve agent, which is part of the reason for the delay [in identifying it].”

– How long can it linger?

Dr Sella said it is “very disturbing” that the agent has been found four months after the first attack, but Novichok is designed not to break down.

“These things are designed to be persistent,” he said.

“They don’t evaporate, they don’t break up in water. The last four months have been dry so I suspect they can be there for quite a long time.”

If the substance was sealed, perhaps in a drinks bottle, then it could take even longer to break down, he added.

– Why was it created?

Novichok, which means newcomer in Russian, was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s as a new kind of chemical weapon that would be harder to detect, more potent than existing nerve agents and exempt from the Chemical Weapons Treaty.

Dr Sella said: “Novichok agents are ones that were kept very quiet by the Russians and developed to try and gain advantage against the more conventional things they knew Western governments had.”

– How does it work?

Novichok and other nerve agents attack the nervous system and stop chemical messages getting around the body.

They cause the heart to slow down and airways to become constricted, leading to suffocation or brain damage.

“It must be excruciatingly painful and unbelievably violent,” Dr Sella said.

“You have very painful muscle contractions, vision goes pretty quickly and what little you can see is blurred, then you can’t breathe.”

– What are the symptoms?

Nerve agents, including Novichok, can be inhaled as a fine powder, absorbed through the skin or ingested.

Symptoms can start within seconds or minutes of being exposed and include convulsions, paralysis, respiratory failure and death.

– How can it be treated?

The treatment for nerve agents is to administer an antidote immediately, but some of the damage from the chemical and oxygen starvation can be irreparable.

It is not known if there is an antidote available for Novichok.

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