There’s been a lot of news in the past few days about the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. In case you’ve forgotten the details, Navalny got on a plane headed back to Moscow in August. After the plane left the ground, Navalny started to feel very ill. Months later he would describe it as a feeling worse than pain: “Pain makes you feel like you’re alive. But in this case, you sense: This is the end.”
As he faded into unconsciouness, Navalny was certain he was dead. And he would have been if not for two individuals who saved his life. The first was the plane’s pilot who immediately asked for permission to land at the nearest airport. The pilot was told the airport was closed because of a bomb threat, but he landed the plane anyway. That gave Navalny a chance.
The second person who saved his life was the EMT who met him at the plane and injected him with atropine, a drug that counteracts poisons, including the unique type of Novichok he had been poisoned with.
But it turns out the ordeal was far from over. While Navalny remained in a coma, government agents took up residence in the hospital where he was being treated. After a two day delay his wife was given permission to fly him to a hospital in Germany. According to a report in the London Times this weekend, that was also created a second chance for his poisoners to kill him.
After failing to kill him on the first attempt, suspected state security agents tried to finish off President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic with a second dose of poison before he could be flown to safety in Berlin, western intelligence sources have told us…
After international pressure, Putin eventually agreed to let Navalny go to Berlin. German security sources have told their associates in the UK that the attackers struck again as Navalny lay in an induced coma before being put on a medical flight to Germany.
“This was with a view to him being dead by the time he arrived in Berlin,” one source said.
Atropine probably saved him again. “Giving a second dose of novichok would undoubtedly increase the chances of killing,” said Alastair Hay, professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds University. “But if he were already ‘atropinised’ this would counteract the nerve agent, although it might mean prolonging his coma. The toxin would take longer to be degraded in the liver.”
They failed the second time obviously but it was a close thing. It took several weeks before Navalny was out of the induced coma he’d been put in.
The chief doctor at the hospital in Omsk, who denied Navalny had been poisoned, seems to have benefitted from his lies.
The Kremlin’s denials are often accompanied by a smirking nod and a wink. Alexander Murakhovsky, the head doctor at the Omsk hospital who obliged the Kremlin with his denial that Navalny had been poisoned, was promoted to regional health minister last month in what looks like a reward.
The other big news this week was a story published by Bellingcat which detailed the plot against Navalny, identifying many of the people involved in trailing him around the country and also the individuals who were near the hotel where he was apparently poisoned. From the conclusion of the piece:
This investigation has unearthed large volumes of data implicating Russia’s preeminent security agency, the FSB, in tailing Navalny over a long period of time using operatives that have specialized training in chemical weapons, chemistry and medicine – a skillset inconsistent with regular surveillance practices. These operatives were in the vicinity of the opposition activist in the days and hours of the time-range during which he was poisoned with a military-grade chemical weapon. They were in the vicinity of Navalny on at least one other occasion when a family member felt inexplicable symptoms consistent with a non-lethal, accidental dosage of the same toxin. They had previously tailed the opposition figure on over 37 trips in the last four years. Given this implausible series of coincidences, the burden of proof for an innocent explanation appears to rest purely with the Russian state.
Doctors working for the FSB are trailing Navalny all over the country and both he and his wife are poisoned. That really is a remarkable coincidence. But of course, Putin wants everyone to know who is behind this. That’s the point. He doesn’t need poison to kill one opposition figure. He could have one of his goons use a bullet. The poison is intended to terrorize the opposition, i.e. if you create trouble you’ll not only die, you’ll die slowly and painfully.