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World

Navalny says 'amazing' to breathe unaided, eyes Russia return

  • The Kremlin said Tuesday that any improvement in Navalny's condition will make everyone glad’.
15 Sep 2020

MOSCOW: Opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Tuesday he was able to breathe unaided in his first public comments after his suspected poisoning in Siberia, while his aide said he planned to return to Russia once recovered.

The 44-year-old lawyer and outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin fell severely ill on August 20 on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow after a trip to support opposition candidates in local elections.

Germany said there was "unequivocal evidence" that Russia's most prominent opposition figure was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent but Moscow has angrily dismissed the findings, saying its doctors found no trace of poison.

"Hello, this is Navalny," he wrote in a post on Instagram, appearing with his wife and two children in the Berlin hospital where he was flown for treatment after falling ill.

Wearing a hospital gown, he looked gaunt and barely smiled while his wife Yulia beamed next to him.

"Yesterday I was able to breathe on my own all day," he wrote.

"It's an amazing process and underestimated by many. I recommend it," joked Navalny, who has 1.8 million followers on Instagram.

"I miss you"," he told his supporters.

The anti-corruption campaigner's suspected poisoning has sparked sharp condemnation from Western leaders who have called for a thorough investigation and those responsible to be brought to justice.

Germany said Monday that French and Swedish labs had independently confirmed findings by doctors in Berlin that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok.

Navalny's allies say the use of the banned chemical weapon means that only the Russian state could be responsible.

Navalny's spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said separately that the opposition leader planned to return to Russia.

"No other option has ever been considered," she told AFP.

Russia has angrily dismissed Germany's findings, saying its doctors found no trace of poison when Navalny was first taken to hospital in Siberia and Putin this week dismissed "unsubstantiated claims" over his top critic's illness.

The director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Naryshkin, on Tuesday reiterated that Russian doctors had found no evidence that Navalny was poisoned.

"Therefore, we have many questions for the German side," Naryshkin told reporters.

He instead said that medics in the Siberian city of Omsk had carried out robust tests and saved the opposition leader's life.

He added that Russia had destroyed stockpiles of Novichok, a Soviet-designed nerve agent, and said allegations Russia stored the chemical weapon amounted to "disinformation".

Despite international calls for Russia to carry out a transparent investigation or risk sanctions, it has not opened a criminal probe.

The Kremlin said Tuesday that any improvement in Navalny's condition "will make everyone glad".

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said that Russia was ready to cooperate with German doctors, but that medics in Berlin had not yet shared Navalny's test results.

"For some reason, we haven't received a response from our German counterparts," Peskov said.

The case has heightened tensions between Russia and the West, and sharpened calls for Germany to abandon the nearly-completed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.

Navalny's post came a day after his allies claimed symbolic victories in local elections held throughout Russia's regions last week, with several opposition candidates claiming seats on city councils in Tomsk and Novosibirsk.

Russia has been accused in the past of poisoning critics and Novichok was also used in the 2018 attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.