Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has alleged that Vladimir Putin was behind the poison plot which left him fighting for his life.
Pointing the finger directly at the Russian president for the first time, Navalny told German magazine Der Spiegel that ‘Putin is behind the crime and I don’t have any other versions of what happened’.
Navalny, 44, described the moment that the nerve agent Novichok began to take effect, saying that ‘you don’t feel any pain but you know you’re dying’.
Navalny was released from a German hospital last week after 32 days of treatment but medics say it is too early to tell if he will suffer long-term health problems.
The West has demanded an explanation from the Kremlin, which has denied any involvement in the incident and said it has yet to see evidence of a poison plot.
Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia pose for a picture after the Russian opposition leader was released from his German hospital after his Novichok poisoning
Navalny being taken to an ambulance in Omsk (left) after falling ill on a plane following a trip to an airport cafe (right) in August, although his friends now suspect he was poisoned with a water bottle in his hotel room rather than at the airport
Navalny told the German magazine that he would return to Russia, adding: ‘Not returning would mean that Putin has achieved his aim. And my job now is to stay the guy who’s not afraid.’
A political activist who helped bring Navalny to Germany said it would take him at least another month to regain fitness, adding it was clear he planned to return to Russia and resume political activity.
For now, he is staying in Berlin with his wife and son as he undergoes the long process of rehabilitation.
Doctors at the Charite hospital said that based on the patient’s progress and current condition, the treating physicians believe that complete recovery is possible’.
However, they added that ‘it remains too early to gauge the potential long-term effects of his severe poisoning’.
Navalny described telling cabin crew that he had been poisoned before he fell on the floor on the flight in Siberia.
‘Then I heard voices that were getting softer, a woman calling: Don’t faint now! Then that was it. I knew I was dead. Only later did I realise that I was wrong,’ he said.
A German military lab found ‘unequivocal evidence’ of Novichok poisoning last month, a finding supported by laboratories in France and Sweden.
Navalny’s allies initially speculated that he was poisoned at a Siberian airport shortly before he fell ill.
However, his aides later said that Novichok was found on a water bottle in his Tomsk hotel room.
After Navalny fell ill, the aircraft made an emergency landing in Omsk and he was initially taken to hospital in the Siberian city.
The following weekend he was airlifted to Berlin, where doctors treated him with the antidote atropine and kept him in a medically induced coma.
Navalny’s allies have pointed the finger at Russian president Vladimir Putin (pictured) after the opposition leader fell ill, but the Kremlin has dismissed the claims
Suspicion has fallen on Moscow, especially because the nerve agent was the same one used to poison Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018, but the Kremlin denies any involvement.
Navalny’s supporters have directly pointed the finger at Putin, saying that only the Russian government could use a military-grade nerve agent such as Novichok.
Russia’s transport police says it has questioned 200 people in a basic probe, but authorities have yet to open a full investigation.
The Kremlin has played down Germany’s finding of Novichok, insisting that medical tests carried out by its own doctors found no poison in Navalny’s body.
Navalny said he ‘did not expect anything else’ after Russian talk shows suggested that Western intelligence or his own allies had carried out the attack.
In a video address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, German foreign minister Heiko Maas said Navalny’s poisoning was a violation of the ban on chemical weapons and therefore a problem for ‘the entire international community.’
‘I call on Russia to do more to clarify this matter,’ Maas said.
On Wednesday, the Russian foreign ministry accused Berlin of ‘provocative’ behaviour by using the UN to make ‘groundless claims’.
Moscow said it viewed those statements as the ‘continuation of Berlin’s openly hostile line’ on Navalny’s case.
Navalny poses with his wife Yulia and their children at the German hospital where he was being treated after being poisoned with Novichok
Russia said it was especially ‘cynical’ because Germany had failed to respond to three requests for cooperation from the General Prosecutor’s Office in Moscow.
‘The West often says that it’s no longer possible to deal with Russia, that is to conduct ‘business as usual,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
Germany has previously retorted that Russia had plenty of opportunities to gather evidence when Navalny was being treated in Russia.
Outrage at Navalny’s poisoning has led to calls for renewed sanctions against Russia, including scrapping the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany.
The Kremlin has rejected those calls, saying that the pipeline is ‘absolutely in line with the interests of both Russia and EU countries’.
Navalny said on Monday that German chancellor Angela Merkel had visited him at the Berlin hospital.
‘I am very grateful to Chancellor Merkel for visiting me at the hospital,’ he wrote on Twitter following reports of the meeting in German media.
Putin’s spokesman said last week that Navalny would be free to return to Russia, where he has been arrested multiple times in what critics say were politically motivated crackdowns.
Navalny has also been sued over his anti-corruption investigations and was barred from running in the 2018 presidential election, which Putin won.