Update: Navalny’s Team Says Water Bottle With Traces Of Novichok Found In His Hotel Room In Tomsk
September 17, 2020 09:20 GMT UPDATED September 17, 2020 14:57 GMT By RFE/RL’s Russian Service
Associates of Aleksei Navalny say traces of the nerve agent used to poison the Russian opposition politician were found on a water bottle in the hotel room he was staying in in the Russian city of Tomsk.
Navalny, 44, felt unwell while on a plane on his way from Tomsk to Moscow in late August, forcing the airliner to make an emergency landing in the city of Omsk, where he was rushed to a hospital. He was later flown to the Charite clinic in Berlin, Germany, where toxicology tests provided “unequivocal evidence” that the gravely ill Kremlin-critic had been poisoned with a nerve agent from the Soviet-style Novichok chemical group.
Navalny’s blog on Instagram said on September 17 that his associates were still in the Xander hotel in Tomsk when news of the politician’s illness broke. They immediately rushed to Navalny’s vacated and yet-to-be-cleaned room, where they collected any suspicious items they saw, including an opened bottle of mineral water with the brand name that translates as “Holy Spring” and is also referred to as “Saint Spring.
The Proekt website on September 17 quoted one of Navalny’s associates who said that the bottle was taken to Berlin by one of Navalny’s team members, Maria Pevchikh, who is a resident of the United Kingdom.
The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on September 17 that it is providing technical assistance to Germany in investigating Navalny’s case of poisoning with the nerve agent.
In Brussels, the European Parliament demanded tough EU sanctions on Russia over the Navalny poisoning, accusing the Kremlin of trying to assassinate him to silence dissent.
Members of the assembly said the poisoning of Navalny was part of a “systemic effort” by President Vladimir Putin’s government to stifle opposition.
“Political assassinations and poisonings in Russia are systemic instruments of the regime deliberately targeting the opposition,” the European Parliament said in a nonbinding resolution, adding that Novichok was “only available to military structures and secret services in Russia.”
“The attempted assassination of Aleksei Navalny was part of a systemic effort to silence him and other dissident voices, and to deter him and those voices from further exposing serious corruption in the regime and deter political opposition in the country in general.”
EU diplomats are currently working on a new EU sanctions regime punishing human rights abusers. According to sources RFE/RL have spoken with, work on the framework should be completed by the end of this year.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell earlier this week floated the idea that the sanctions be named after Navalny.
Germany has demanded that Russia explain the incident, but Russia has vehemently denied any involvement and has pressed Germany to share the evidence that led to the verdict Navalny was poisoned.
Meanwhile, an investigator from Tomsk visited Navalny’s Moscow office on September 17, the head of the office told Reuters.
Russian investigators are conducting a preliminary probe into the case and want to question two of the foundation’s employees, Ilya Pakhomov and Maria Pevchikh, who were with Navalny in Tomsk before he fell ill last month, Ivan Zhdanov said.
Navalny has led nationwide protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has been attacked with a dangerous chemical and fallen ill in Russian custody in the past.
Among the Kremlin opponents who have been killed or targeted in recent years are investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, former Russian Deputy Prime Minister and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, and former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, among others.
Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned by Novichok in the British city of Salisbury in 2018, and British investigators have implicated Russian security agencies. OPCW tests confirmed use of the highly toxic substance.
Members of the OPCW agreed in November 2019 to expand the agency’s list of banned “Schedule 1” chemicals for the first time to include the Novichok family of nerve agents. That ban went into effect on June 7, 2020.
The OPCW was established in 1997 as a technical body to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention. It has played an active role in monitoring the use of banned chemical weapons in the Syrian war, which has made its work highly political.