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Novichok Nerve Agent Used To Poison Alexei Navalny, Germany Says – NPR

Alexei Navalny was poisoned by a rare nerve agent that was developed in Russia, German officials say. Navalny, a leading critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is being treated in Berlin’s Charité hospital, seen here behind the Reichstag.

Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images


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Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

Alexei Navalny was poisoned by a rare nerve agent that was developed in Russia, German officials say. Navalny, a leading critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is being treated in Berlin’s Charité hospital, seen here behind the Reichstag.

Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

Updated at 12:44 p.m. ET

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a variant of Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent, according to tests carried out by a German military laboratory. A German government spokesman says the evidence is “without a doubt.”

Navalny “is the victim of a crime that intended to silence him,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a news conference Wednesday about the findings. The crime, she said, was an “attempted murder.”

Novichok is the same nerve agent used to poison former KGB spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in a 2018 attack in Britain that Western nations have blamed on Moscow.

Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for Merkel, says that Germany condemns the attack in the strongest possible terms and urges the Russian government to explain what happened.

Navalny, 44, fell ill on a commercial flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk on Aug. 20, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing. His spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, said she saw him drink one thing: a cup of tea at the airport in Tomsk.

Two days later, the activist and politician was airlifted from Siberia to the Charité hospital in Berlin. Navalny remains in a medically induced coma, but in a recent update, German doctors said his condition is stable and that his life is not in danger.

The Novichok group of nerve agents was “developed in a top-secret laboratory in Moscow and was once a closely held secret of the Russian government,” as NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel has reported. The name means “newcomer” in Russian — the chemical weapons were developed in the last years of the Cold War, in a bid to create agents that are both lethal and very difficult to detect.

Navalny is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics. The opposition leader has also investigated well-placed officials over potential instances of corruption and abuse of office.

When Navalny was being treated in Siberia, doctors there claimed there were no traces of poison in his system. Instead, they said he was suffering from a blood sugar imbalance.

Merkel’s office says the government is hoping Navalny will make a full recovery.

Navalny “continues to be treated in an intensive care unit and remains on a ventilator,” the Charité hospital said Wednesday. “Recovery is likely to be lengthy. It is still too early to gauge the long-term effects which may arise in relation to this severe poisoning.”

Germany will notify the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons about the nerve agent’s use, Merkel said. She added that Germany will also inform NATO and the European Union about the new allegations against Russia and that the organizations will discuss “an appropriate and joint reaction.”

Both Sergei and Yulia Skripal survived the March 2018 attack in Salisbury, England, and the U.K. charged two Russian men with the crime. Then-Prime Minister Theresa May said that the U.K.’s security and intelligence agencies determined the men were “officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU.”

Four months after the Skripals were poisoned, two local residents of Salisbury came into contact with Novichok and one of them later died. U.K. authorities have said the two residents likely were exposed to nerve agent that had been discarded after the March attack.

The Russian government has denied involvement in the Salisbury poisonings.

Esme Nicholson contributed to this report for NPR.

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