On Tuesday, a day after he was taken off a ventilator, Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was cracking jokes on Instagram, in his first public statement since being poisoned by a toxic nerve agent last month.
The 44-year-old Russian opposition leader broke his silence with a picture of himself sitting up in his Berlin hospital bed, surrounded by his wife and two children.
“Hi, this is Navalny. I’m missing you,” he wrote.
“I still can hardly do anything, but yesterday I could breathe the whole day on my own. Completely on my own. No external help, not even a … ventilator in my throat. I liked it a lot. A surprising process that is under-appreciated by many. I highly recommend it.”
The post came a day after Navalny’s doctors at Charité hospital in Berlin said the strident anti-corruption campaigner had been taken off a ventilator, and as the New York Times – citing a German security official – reported that Navalny was planning to return to Russia once he had recovered, rather than remain in exile.
Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, confirmed the report on Twitter Tuesday, responding to questions about whether Navalny would return to his homeland once he recovered, despite the dangers he would likely face there.
“I’ll confirm again to everyone: no other options were ever considered,” Yarmysh wrote.
Tests carried out by labs in three European countries have concluded he was poisoned with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent used by the Russian secret service, in what European leaders have said was a clear attempt on his life. During a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday, his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron demanded a thorough investigation into the attack, which he called an “assassination attempt”.
However, Russia has repeatedly stonewalled demands from European countries and NATO to account for the chemical attack on Putin’s biggest domestic critic, claiming there was no evidence of any poisoning to warrant an investigation.
Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service chief, Sergey Naryshkin, said there was no trace of poison in samples taken from Navalny before he left Russia, and that the country had destroyed all of its Novichok supplies, the state-run RIA Novosti agency reported Tuesday.