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On a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on August 20, Alexei Navalny, an influential opposition leader in Russia, fell ill and the plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Omsk, where Navalny was brought urgently to the hospital. It turned out that Navalny was poisoned with the toxic Novichok nerve agent, allegedly from a water bottle of the hotel where he was staying.
At the hospital in Omsk, Navalny fell into a coma however, at first his doctors did not want to disclose any information regarding Navalny’s current situation, and then later they denied the claims that he had been poisoned. German authorities wanted to immediately fly Navalny to Germany for medical treatment, but Russian doctors argued that he was physically not stable enough to travel. According to Anastasia Vasilyeva, Navalny’s personal doctor, the Russian doctors “ha[ve] tried to delay his departure long enough for the poison in his system to diminish and become difficult or impossible to identify”.
Nevertheless, Germany insisted and on August 22, they flew him to the Charité hospital in Berlin. After several tests, German doctors announced on September 2 that they found traces of the toxic nerve agent in his blood, skin and urine, which was also later confirmed by medical laboratories in France and in Sweden. On September 7, the doctors announced that Navalny was out of the coma, and a week later, on September 15, that he was awake and breathing without the ventilator. He also declared that he has been planning to come back to Russia. According to Navalny’s team, Navalny was allegedly poisoned following President Vladimir Putin’s command.
Alexei Navalny is the main Russian opposition leader and critic of President Putin’s government and he is an anti-corruption activist. He founded the Anti-Corruption Foundation to investigate and research the Kremlin.
For example, in 2017 he discovered that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had a $1 billion network of palaces. Following the discovery, Navalny became more and more influential and is now a prominent figure in the opposition in Russia. In 2013, he ran for the mayoral election in Moscow and gained only 27% of the votes, although he claimed that it was a fraud. He has also attempted to run for president in 2018 but with no success because he was barred from running. Nevertheless, by being a top opposition leader, he has targeted several times allegedly by the Russian authorities.
In 2014, Navalny was sentenced to five years of prison for embezzlement, even though the sentence was suspended and the case was declared unfair by the European Court of Human Rights, and in 2020, Russia froze the bank accounts of Navalny and his family. Navalny has also received multiple physical threats: for example, in 2019, he received treatment at the hospital following an “acute allergic reaction” after being detained, although his personal doctor claimed that it was due to a chemical substance.
RUSSIA AND NOVICHOK
It is not the first time that Russian opposition activists and Kremlin critics have been harassed, injured, or even killed and it is not the first time that Russian authorities allegedly used the Novichok nerve agent. Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist and Kremlin critic, was allegedly poisoned during a local flight. Although she survived it, she was shot two years later. Another opposition activist, Pyotr Verzilov, declared he had the same symptoms like Navalny’s in 2018, which put him on a ventilator and received treatment in Germany. Aleksandr Litvinenko, former Russian intelligence officer, died in 2006 from drinking tea with Polonium 210. The same happened with opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza, who died in 2015 from poisoning. Lastly, Sergei Skripal, former Russian spy, was poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent allegedly from the Russian secret services, but survived and recovered.
NOVICHOK AND THE RUSSIA-EU RELATIONS
The poisoning of Sergei Skripal had already brought condemnations by the EU, and moreover, several European countries, including the UK, expelled 150 Russian diplomats and put into force multiple sanctions against Russia. Navalny’s attack has also been playing a central role in the current international relations between Russia and the European countries. Germany and France have called for an investigation of the attack . On September 14, they both asked Russia to illustrate the events and to cooperate with the investigations. France’s President Emmanuel Macron called President Putin to ask for clarifications, but President Putin dismissed the request by saying that “it was ‘inappropriate’ to make groundless accusations against Russia over the Navalny case”.
On September 17, the European Parliament adopted a resolution, which denounces the attack on Navalny and declares that the Novichok nerve agent “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”. In addition to that, the members of the European Parliament regarded this attack as “systematic effort to silence dissident voices in Russia”. As such, the resolution requests an investigation into the attack, as well as the implementation of sanctions against Russia.
Another consequence in the current intra-state relations is the issue of the Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline project that should carry gas from Russia to mainly Germany, which would get Russia to have a leading and influential role in Europe. Following the attack, Chancellor Angela Merkel has been pressured to suspend the project both from the European Parliament and from other countries. This event has been heavily criticized from the Russian authorities, as the Russian diplomat Vladimir Chizhov declared that “it was absurd to try to link the situation around Alexey Navalny’s alleged poisoning to the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline”.
All in all, the attack on Navalny gained international attention, as well as influence in Russia. In fact, the regional elections in Tomsk, where Navalny was staying to make propaganda for the opposition, and in Novosibirsk resulted in the winning of council seats for the opposition candidates, allies of Navalny.
- In what ways will Russia react towards the EU’s implementations of sanctions?
- What aspects of the society will be influenced in Russia or changed following the attack on Navalny? And in what ways?
- What effect will the attack have on Navalny’s campaign and influence in Russia?