Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny was discharged from a Berlin hospital on Sept. 23, having spent nearly three weeks in a coma after being poisoned.
Navalny lost consciousness while on an Aug. 20 flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow. After the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, Navalny was admitted to the hospital, where doctors suspected poisoning. Later, he was transferred to Germany for treatment, where doctors eventually determined Navalny had indeed been poisoned with the chemical agent known as Novichok, the same agent used in the 2018 case in Salisbury, U.K., where a former Russian agent and his daughter were poisoned.
Doctors who treated Navalny in Russia claimed they found no trace of poison in his system before he was flown out of the country.
And just as in the Salisbury case, Russian officials and state media began to produce a wide variety of narratives denying involvement in Navalny’s poisoning and suggesting that he was not poisoned at all.
But on Sept. 23, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova went a step further, suggesting that Novichok was never produced in Russia or the Soviet Union.
"Never, neither on the territory of the Soviet Union nor in the times of the Soviet Union, nor in the times of the Russian Federation nor on the territory of the Russian Federation, was there research that would have had either the direct [name] or the codename Novichok,” she said.
That is false.
Not only is it well established that Novichok was developed in the Soviet Union, but, in attempts to discredit the Salisbury poisoning investigation and the current Navalny case, Russia effectively admitted it developed and stockpiled Novichok, at least in the past.
For example, the Russian state news agency TASS reported on Sept. 15 that the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Naryshkin, said Russia had destroyed its stockpile of chemical weapons, including Novichok.
The story further quoted Naryshkin as denying that any toxic substances were found in Navalny’s bloodwork before he was flown to Germany for treatment.
Russian state media have repeatedly sought commentary from Leonid Rink, identified as one of the scientists who developed Novichok. Rink, who was also cited frequently in Russian media during the 2018 Salisbury poisonings, admitted to working on development of the chemical agent in the Soviet era.
The Soviet Union began developing Novichok, a nerve agent, in the 1970s. It was discovered by Western intelligence agencies in the early 1990s.
Alexey Navalny, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s best-known critics, has drawn the Kremlin’s ire for his multiple, widely publicized investigations of corruption among the regime’s inner circle.
Navalny has been attacked before. In one 2017 incident, he was splashed in the face with a green medical solution that stains the skin, leaving him nearly blind in one eye.