(CNN)Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned with a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group, the German government said Wednesday.
Navalny, who fell ill on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow last month, is being treated at a Berlin hospital.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said toxicological tests on samples taken from Navalny had been carried out at a German military laboratory. He said they provided “unequivocal evidence of a chemical nerve agent” from the Novichok group.
In a statement, Seibert said it was “startling” that “Navalny was the victim of an attack with a chemical nerve agent in Russia.”
“The federal government condemns this attack in the strongest possible terms,” the statement said, adding: “The Russian government is urged to explain itself regarding the incident.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that the Kremlin had not received any information from Germany that Navalny was poisoned with a substance from the Novichok group, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was waiting for a German response to a request from the Russian Prosecutor General regarding Navalny’s treatment and diagnosis, TASS reported.
Seibert said German Chancellor Angela Merkel had discussed Navalny’s case with ministers earlier Wednesday, and that the government would inform the EU, NATO and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons about the results of the investigation.
The German government statement concluded: “We hope for a full recovery of Alexey Navalny.”
Prominent Kremlin critic
Navalny, 44, a prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, became ill en route from Siberia to Moscow on August 20.
Dramatic video footage from the plane showed a man groaning in apparent agony.
The flight made an emergency landing in Omsk, and Navalny was transferred to a hospital there, before his wife and supporters pleaded for him to be taken to Germany for treatment.
The anti-corruption blogger was flown to Berlin on August 22 and taken to the city’s Charité Hospital, where he is said to be in an induced coma.
Following the German government’s announcement on Wednesday, Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, tweeted out a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s signature. In the accompanying text, Volkov wrote that the act of poisoning Navalny with Novichok was akin to leaving an autograph at the scene of the crime.
The director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Ivan Zhdanov, also tweeted on Wednesday, writing that Novichok could only be used by “the [Russian] State,” referring to the country’s intelligence institutions. “This is beyond any reasonable doubt,” Zhdanov added.
Other Kremlin critics or opponents have been involved in apparent poisoning incidents or suffered mysterious deaths.
In March 2018, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was the target of a Novichok nerve agent attack in the English cathedral city of Salisbury. Skripal and his daughter Yulia both fell seriously ill after the attack.
The pair recovered but Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old woman who was accidentally exposed to the military-grade nerve agent, subsequently died.
Andrea Sella, professor of inorganic chemistry at University College London, told CNN: “The identification of the poison as being one of the family of Novichok agents points extremely strongly towards the Russian government being responsible for this outrage.”
“The Russian government has the motivation for it, but also the track record on multiple levels,” Sella said. “It shows both their ruthlessness but also their level of impunity. It is clear that they care little about international opinion and are prepared to act because they know that the consequences are extremely small.”
The Novichok agents
are both lethal and highly unusual, so much so that that very few scientists outside of Russia have any real experience in dealing with them.
Novichok means “newcomer” in Russian. The chemical weapons were first developed in secret by the Soviet Union during the Cold War in the 1980s.
Its existence remained secret until the mid-1990s, when information regarding production was revealed as part of a deliberate leak by disgruntled Soviet scientist and whistle-blower Vil Mirzayanov. Even today, no country outside of Russia is known to have developed substances in the Novichok group.