Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Picture: REUTERS/TATYANA MAKEYEVA
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Picture: REUTERS/TATYANA MAKEYEVA

Berlin — A critic of Russian President Vladmir Putin, now in a coma and being treated in a Berlin hospital, was poisoned with a nerve agent of the Novichok family, a German government spokesperson said on Wednesday.

Toxicology tests of blood samples from Alexei Navalny conducted at a German military laboratory produced “unequivocal evidence” that the Russian opposition critic had been poisoned with Novichok, Steffen Seibert said in an e-mailed statement.

Navalny was airlifted to Germany late last month after collapsing during a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow.

“The federal government will inform its partners in the EU and Nato of the results of the investigation,” Seibert added. “It will discuss an appropriate joint response with the partners in the light of the Russian response.”

A Kremlin spokesperson said Germany had not informed it that Berlin believed Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok, according to the RIA news agency.

A nerve agent of the same family was used two years ago to poison a Russian defector living in Britain. 

The incident has prompted calls by the West to investigate and could mean more sanctions against Moscow. After having opened slightly weaker against the dollar, the rouble tumbled 2.4% against the greenback to 75.30 in reaction to the German comment. Compared to the euro the rouble fell 1.5% to 88.93.

Russia is already under Western sanctions after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine six years ago, and another standoff with European nations or the US may hurt its economy further. The Russian rouble extended losses against the euro after the German government statement.

Novichok is a deadly group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s. Britain says Russia used Novichok to poison former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British city of Salisbury in 2018. 

Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack, which the Skripals survived. One member of the public was killed.

“It is a shocking event that Navalny has become the victim of an attack with a chemical nerve agent in Russia,” Seibert said. “The federal government condemns this attack in the strongest terms.” 

Reuters

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