16:55 GMT26 January 2021
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    The alleged poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny has strained the already stuttering relations between Moscow and some Western powers, who hit top Russian officials accused of being involved with sanctions. The Kremlin denies the allegations and has vowed to fight back with counter measures.

    An international group of media outlets, including Bellingcat, CNN, Der Spiegel, and The Insider has published the names of people they claim were involved in “poisoning” Alexei Navalny in August 2020 in Siberia.

    According to separate reports unveiled by the media, the individuals in question are members of an “elite unit” of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), comprising six to 10 operatives educated in toxicology and medicine. Some of them have been “trailing” the opposition politician since 2017, the media says, secretly accompanying him on more than 30 domestic flights. 

    Bellingcat claims, citing phone records and flight manifests, that three FSB operatives – Alexey Alexandrov, Ivan Osipov, and Vladimir Panyaev, supported by at least five supervisors – travelled alongside Navalny to Novosibirsk and then to the city of Tomsk this summer, where he claims he was poisoned at an unconfirmed point.

    According to the reports, communications between these individuals rose sharply in the days leading up to Alexey Navalny’s illness.

    It’s also claimed that some of the alleged FSB operators followed Navalny and his wife Yulia on a trip to the Russian city of Kaliningrad in July 2020. She claims she became ill during there but the nature of the affliction was not determined. 

    The “elite” unit of the FSB’s “toxins team” is said to be headquartered on Akademika Vargi Street in Moscow and operating under the leadership of Stanislav Makshakov, who reportedly served at the State Organic Synthesis institute where the nerve agent Novichok was developed in 1970s.

    CNN admitted in its article that it was not sure if officials linked to Akademika Vargi Street actually “poisoned Navalny with Novichok” but said the unit's "activities in July and August" justified sanctions against Russia.

    Navalny’s Case and Anti-Russia Sanctions 

    Alexei Navalny, the Russian self-styled political blogger and former Moscow mayoral candidate, fell gravely ill during a domestic flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow on 20 August. The plane made an emergency landing in the city of Omsk, where his condition stabilised, with local doctors blaming a sudden drop in sugar levels for his sharp deterioration. They said no traces of poison were found in his blood at that time.

    Navalny
    © Photo : navalny/instagram
    Navalny

    Later Navalny was transferred to Berlin’s Charite hospital, where German officials claimed their military testing labs found traces of nerve agent from the Novichok group in his blood. However, they have failed to provide evidence despite Moscow’s requests.

    In October, the European Union imposed sanctions against FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov and two deputy defence ministers, as well as some other high profile Russian officials, in relation to the Navalny case. They were hit with travel bans and had assets frozen for being “involved in the poisoning.”

    The sanctions also targeted Russia’s State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology.

    According to the EU statement, it was “reasonable to conclude that the poisoning was only possible with the involvement of the Federal Security Service" and “with the consent of the Presidential Executive Office."

    Navalny has directly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of poisoning him. 

    The Kremlin denies any role in the case, while vowing to respond to EU sanctions with counter-measures against Germany and France.

    Russia has previously sent several requests to Germany for legal assistance in the Navalny case, which has remained unanswered. No criminal probe has been launched in Russia over the situation despite an ongoing review, with Putin recently saying that “just because a person nearly died, it doesn’t mean a criminal case should be opened.”

    Tags:
    FSB, Bellingcat, CNN, Alexei Navalny, Russia, United Kingdom, Germany, United States
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