If the allegations that Alexey Navalny fell victim to ‘Novichok’ didn’t exist, those fanning them would make something else up as an excuse to damage Russia, the country's Foreign Minister said in an interview published on Friday.
Sergey Lavrov recalled similar narratives during the saga around the alleged poisoning of Russian-born British spy Sergey Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, a couple of years ago.
The European Parliament has recently pulled no punches in accusing Moscow of being complicit in the situation around opposition figure Alexey Navalny. Some MEPs have floated the idea of “swiftly putting in place ambitious restrictive EU measures vis-à-vis Russia and strengthening already existing ones” – a move Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov calls the “sanctions itch,” which is only growing.
“At this stage, everything is subordinated to undermine relations between Russia and the European Union as much as possible,” Lavrov told news agnency Sputnik when asked to comment on the developments. This way or another, a pretext to pile further pressure on Moscow was conveniently used by an unspecified “aggressive Russophobic minority” within the EU, he said.
I am confident that if it had not been for the current situation with Alexey Navalny, they would have come up with something else.
Earlier this month, the German military’s chemical weapons lab proclaimed that Navalny was poisoned by a nerve agent from the notorious ‘Novichok’ family. However, Russia’s attempts to inquire into these serious claims are stuck in a bureaucratic game of ping pong, Lavrov says. “Germany says it can’t tell us anything, they tell us to go to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW]. We went there several times. Ask Berlin, they say,” the foreign minister revealed.
This sidelining of Russia from the inquiry bears a striking resemblance to the 2018 Skirpal story, he believes. “We have already gone through this… all this has already happened in the Skripals [case],” Lavrov said.
At the time, Russia was portrayed as the only country to have produced Novichok – something which is not true. Russia’s chief diplomat pointed out the publicly verifiable fact that several Western countries were developing substances from the Novichok group. The US alone has issued numerous patents, he pointed out.
Taking a swipe at Sweden as one of the developers, Lavrov said: “The Swedes told us not to dare to mention them in this regard two years ago, but since then they have never been involved in work related to Novichok.”
But if two years ago Sweden had no competence to figure out whether it was ‘Novichok’ or not, and if such competence appeared within two years, then something happened.
“And if something happened that allowed Sweden to get the hang of the ‘Novichoks’, perhaps it is necessary to look at it as a potentially gross violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention,” the diplomat added, citing the governing document of the OPCW.
The Navalny affair began on August 20 when he suddenly felt unwell on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow. The aircraft made an emergency stop in Omsk, another Siberian city on the way to the Russian capital, where the opposition activist was admitted to a local hospital and fell into a coma.
Days later, Navalny was flown to Berlin’s Charite hospital, benefiting from the status of the German government’s “special guest.” German doctors were the first to claim he was the victim of Novichok, saying traces of the poison were found in his system. Russian doctors in Omsk countered this, insisting that Navalny’s samples showed no toxic substances. Also, the scientists behind the development of the nerve agent stated that his symptoms did not indicate exposure to their creation.
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