Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow's questions on the case have yet to be answered
The West still has questions to answer over the alleged poisoning of jailed Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed on Friday, suggesting that the current story presented by his associates is not correct.
Speaking in an interview, Lavrov said he is "inclined to believe" that Western nations have no real reason to accuse Moscow of being behind the poisoning of Navalny, claiming that the entire story is cooked up "to provoke" Russia.
In August 2020, Navalny fell ill on a flight to Moscow from Tomsk. After an emergency landing in the Siberian city of Omsk, he was taken to hospital and placed in a coma. Doctors in Russia diagnosed him with an unidentified metabolic disorder. A few days later, after requests from his family and associates, he was flown to Berlin. In Germany, he was treated in the capital's Charite Clinic, where he stayed until he recovered.
Shortly after his arrival in Berlin, doctors at the German facility announced that he had been poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent. According to Navalny, he was attacked on the orders of the Kremlin, and he directly accused President Vladimir Putin of ordering a hit. The culpability of the Russian authorities was later supported by a joint investigation by Riga-based outlet The Insider, along with CNN, Germany's Der Spiegel, and the Western-state-funded Bellingcat, which claimed that the FSB had been tailing him for several years and eventually tried to kill him.
Russia's Justice Ministry later designated The Insider and Bellingcat as foreign agents.
The Kremlin has denied having any knowledge of the plot and has said there is no evidence to support the claim. The Russian authorities have also claimed that they have repeatedly asked for proof that Navalny was poisoned but have received no evidence.
This is despite a report in leading British medical journal The Lancet, which published a detailed case report of Navalny's symptoms, including a slow heart rate, hypersalivation, hypothermia, and heavy sweating. Doctors in Omsk claim no poisons were found in the opposition figure's system.
Now, Lavrov has accused the West of inventing the whole incident.
"So far, I am inclined to believe that the West has no grounds to accuse us, and this is all designed to provoke us," he said in an interview.
According to the foreign minister, Germany has refused to provide information on the case because it was supposedly secret information, and now he says that Berlin won't hand over the data due to the reluctance of Navalny himself.
Lavrov also suggested that the Navalny poisoning was pre-planned before the day of the incident, and claimed that the plane flown to Omsk to airlift him to Berlin was scheduled in advance, before there was any sign that the opposition figure would fall ill.
This is the first time he has made this claim, and no physical evidence has been presented.
"We still have not received an answer as to why, judging by objective data, that the plane which was used to take him from Omsk... was ordered the day before he became unwell," he stated. "Why is there no answer to the questions that have been asked in the German parliament purely, specifically, factually?"
In response, Navalny's right-hand man Leonid Volkov called Lavrov's accusations lies, and claimed to have documents proving that he ordered the plane afterward.
Furthermore, Lavrov suggested that the substances found in Navalny were identified too quickly, meaning they were not legitimate scientific examinations. Tests were also conducted in France and Sweden, despite all countries claiming they do not have access to Novichok.
"You can't detect this substance in a human body in three days without having the technology," the top diplomat claimed.
Last year, at his annual end-of-year press conference, Putin claimed that the Russian prosecutor's office had not received a single document confirming claims that the opposition figure had been poisoned, and therefore the topic should be considered closed.
"There is no need to talk about it. Let's move on," the president said.
In January last year, Navalny returned to Russia from Germany, knowing he could be put in prison for breaking the conditions of a suspended sentence handed to him in 2014, when he was found guilty of embezzling 30 million rubles ($415,000) from two companies, including the French cosmetics brand Yves Rocher. A short time later, he was sentenced to two years and eight months in jail.
Earlier this week, Navalny was placed on the country's official government list of "terrorists and extremists." Many of his associates, such as Volkov, are also on the list.