Traces of the toxic nerve agent Novichok were found on a water bottle taken from Alexei Navalny’s hotel room in the Siberian city of Tomsk, German doctors have said, suggesting he was not poisoned at the airport as previously thought.
Navalny’s associates revealed the news on the Kremlin critic’s Instagram account on Thursday morning, as he continues to recover from the poisoning, which happened on August 20.
Until now Navalny’s team believed the opposition leader had ingested the poison in a cup of tea he drank at the airport in Tomsk, Siberia before he boarded a flight back to Moscow. Hours later the flight was forced to make an emergency landing in Omsk when Navalny fell violently ill.
Navalny was initially brought to a hospital in Omsk, where Russian doctors claimed there was no evidence of poisoning. After he was finally allowed to leave Russia for a specialist poison center in Germany, doctors there confirmed the military-grade nerve agent Novichok was the cause of his illness.
Navalny’s associates had remained in Tomsk longer than the opposition leader and so when they got word that he was seriously ill, they returned to his room in the Xander Hotel.
“We didn’t have a great hope of finding anything, but as we were clear that Navalny had not ‘got a bit ill’ … we decided to collect everything that could even hypothetically help, and pass it on to doctors in Germany. It was also pretty obvious there would not be an investigation in Russia,” the Instagram post said.
A video released online shows the groups in the hotel room wearing protective gloves and bagging two empty bottles of "Holy Spring" mineral water, among other items.
“Two weeks later, a German laboratory found traces of novichok precisely on the bottle of water from the Tomsk hotel room,” the post said.
It’s unlikely that the poison was placed in the water bottle, because if Navalny had ingested the poison, he would have had convulsions “within minutes,” one of the developers of Novichok, Vladimir Uglev, told the Project, an investigative Russian news outlet.
Uglev said that based on the evidence available, Navalny received about 20% of a lethal dose, and the substance entered his body after skin contact with a poisoned surface.
The Kremlin has continued to deny any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning and has yet to even formally open a criminal investigation. This week, Russia’s foreign spy agency said Navalny had no poison in his body when he departed for Germany in a coma.
But experts and critics claim that only the Kremlin — and specifically Vladimir Putin — could have authorized an attack on Navalny.
“In Russia, there is no person who would take the responsibility on themselves to do this without consulting with Putin,” Georgy Alburov, a researcher at Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation and who traveled with him to Tomsk, said in an interview on Wednesday.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement on Thursday that it had received a request for analysis of Navalny’s biomedical samples from Germany. “Results of this analysis are forthcoming and will be shared with the German authorities,” the world chemical weapons watchdog said.
Navalny earlier this week posted a photo of himself sitting up in bed, saying that he was breathing on his own again after being taken off a ventilator. His team also said he is planning to return to Russia and continue his anti-corruption work once he has recovered fully.
Cover: Instagram/Alexei Navalny