Russian Foreign Ministry position on the poisoning of Navalny [1]

The following is a summary (based on my own translation) of the statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Below the summary I have put my comments.

  1. Obvious organised media campaign blaming Russia which started almost immediately after the event.
  2. Public statements from German officials at the highest level categorically blaming Russia immediately after the event.
  3. Despite 2. above the German authorities have not backed up their claims with proof in the public domain. They rely on claims based on classified material. They have said that their findings are supported by their allies France and Sweden. However, two years ago these same countries (France and Sweden presumably) were saying that they couldn’t synthesise or detect Novochok.
  4. The US had said they did not need reasons when they brought in sanctions against Russian institutions involved in “chemical weapons research”. Possibly the idea is that this meant the US did not have to rely on evidence of analysis of the toxin. (There may be a suggestion that US sanctions against Russian institutions allegedly involved in chemical weapons research were ‘preprepared’ and that this shows pre-planning of some kind; but I am not sure if I have understood this correctly).
  5. The German side has not answered multiple questions about this matter posed to them by the Russian side. They have answered rudely. This shows that either they are trying to block the unravelling of this story, or they are satisifed with the political effect already achieved.
  6. In terms of the investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibtion of Chemical Weapons Moscow was given the run-around. When they tried to cooperate with Germany they were told to speak directly to the OPCW. When they tried to speak with the OPCW they were told to speak to Germany.
  7. The OPCW, in response to a “far-fetched” German explanation about needing to manage risks of proliferation, classified all details about the nature of the substance found in Navalny’s body.
  8. If we take the German argument seriously this (7) is odd – why would giving Moscow the formula for Novochok be a risk when they already, according to the accusations, have it? This is inconsisent.
  9. In the annual report of the OPCW it is mentioned that the request by Germany to send assistance to Berlin was made on 20/8 – that is the day Navalny was hospitalised in Omsk and before the German authorities had conducted their tests. This is explained as a typo by the German side. Perhaps it is in fact a Freudian slip.
  10. The OPCW declined to cooperate with Russian investigations into the apparent poisoning of Navalny. (The impression is that without this cooperation the Russian investigation could not proceed).
  11. Had such a joint cooperation taken place and specifically had Russia been allowed to investigate the sample in the possession of the OPCW at an OPCW registered lab in St. Petersburg it would have been possible to answer questions about how the toxin (allegedly of a type entered into an OPCW database by Russia, the US, Canada and Holland in 2019) came to be in Navalny’s body.
  12. Medics in Omsk did not find traces of the chemical weapon in question in Navalny. Thus it becomes necessary to confirm that such a chemical did not find its way into Navalny on the plane or when he arrived in Berlin.
  13. This (12) is especially important since on the plane there was a certain German citizen whose identity even up till now has been closely guarded by the German side. Also there was a recently created British Citizen M.K. Pevchikh. This person who is connected with British secret services told the BBC Russian service about her presence on the flight on 18/9/20 but despite this Germany has still not confirmed her presence. [2]
  14. In parallel with these events a series of Western states through the media spread the story that Navalny and his entourage was the centre of democratic protest in Russia.
  15. Foreign Agencies of Western countries regularly pick up the talking points of team Navalny – who is trying to do anything to get himself into the news in order to intefere with the elections to the State Duma scheduled for September 2021.
  16. Berlin and its allies use the artifical hype around Navalny – which they themselves have created – in order to implement strategic restraints on our country and launch attacks on us in the arena of international organisations, masking them with certain “human rights concerns”. It was precisely with these aims in mind that the affair with Navalny was played out.

Commentary

I don’t know if the Russian state poisoned Navalny or not.

There is no evidence in the public domain that the Russian state poisioned Navalny. I haven’t read the Bellingcat report about the FSB phones – largely because when I read one of their previous reports, on MH17, I realised that this was not the serious analysis it purported to be. It was written by someone with no understanding of forensics. I have better things to do with my time. However – Western media reporting of the Bellingcat FSB phones/Navalny story did not suggest any evidence had been found that the FSB poisoned Navalny. That he was under surveillance by the FSB was to be expected. That they were following him does not in any way mean they poisoned him. (Though of course the Western media conflated the two and used the Bellingcat story to promote the idea that the FSB had poisoned Navalny).

It is extraordinary that an international agency like the OPCW thought it fit to exclude Russia from an investigation. (There is a possible rational explanation why the German side did not share the samples from Navalny with Russia. If they sincerely believed that Navalny had been poisoned by Russia then they might have anticipated that Russia would use the samples to undermine their version). However the OPCW should be neutral and should have shared the samples with Russia.

The Kremlin has been playing a cat and mouse game for several years with Navalny. The latter’s aim has been to get himself into the news and to do this out of proportion to his actual popularity in Russia. The Kremlin has been succesful in not allowing Navalny to turn himself into a martyr. They were containing him successfully. Did the Kremlin get scared that Navalny’s movement would do well in September’s elections and for this reason try to kill him? This is clearly what people who believe that the Kremlin poisoned Navalny believe. I doubt this for the following reasons; a) it would have been possible to block Navalny’s candidates without killing him (e.g. by declaring his political network a foreign agent and the electoral commission blocking any Navalny affliated candidates from standing), b) the supposed method of killing him would certainly have incriminated the Kremlin. Any other method, even shooting him, could have been denied. The only possible explanation is they did this deliberately – the whole idea was to be caught and flaunt that they had killed him. This explanation seems very odd. (I’ve seen it in the Guardian). Maybe some Guardian journalists have a perception of the Kremlin that includes the possibility that they relish being exposed as poisoners of their political enemies. It doesn’t fit with my perception. Either way – it would be irrational and self-defeating. The international fall-out was predictable and if the goal was to remove an electoral threat that could have been achieved without this drama.

Navalny has claimed that the FSB made multiple attempts to kill him. This is absurd and the ideas of a phantasist. Russian intelligence services can bungle operations but that the FSB failed time and time again to kill Navalny in Russia is just not serious. (We also have to believe that after the Novochok failed and when Navalny was lying seriously ill in a state hospital in Omsk they failed to finish the job). Navalny’s long-term strategy and tactics have been to draw attention to himself, to embarrass the Kremlin (and Putin personally), and to create scandals. He does this for the reason the Foreign Ministry states above. He needs to hype himself because in reality his support in Russia is relatively limited. The possibility that Navalny came up with the idea to poison himself with ‘Novochok’ and thus create a huge scandal just in time for the elections is entirely consistent with his modus operandi. No one doubts that he is brave.

I agree with the comments of the Russian Foreign Ministry that there was something too pat about the speed with which Western governments and media pinned the blame on the Kremlin. It does have the air of a pre-planned set piece.

Again; I don’t know.

Notes

  1. https://www.mid.ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4841644
  2. https://www.bbc.com/russian/features-54204627 This is a link to the interview with M.K. Pevchikh who was one of Navalny’s associates and appears according to the Foreign Affairs statement to have been granted British Citizenship. I don’t know what the basis is for the claim that she is connected with British secret services.

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer