Specialist labs in France and Sweden have confirmed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, the German government said Monday.
A German military laboratory previously confirmed the substance in his samples.
German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said that the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has also received samples and is taking steps to have those tested at its reference laboratories.
“Independently of the ongoing examinations by the OPCW, three laboratories have now confirmed independently of one another the proof of a nerve agent of the Novichok group as the cause of Mr. Navalny’s poisoning,” Seibert said in a statement.
He said Germany had asked France and Sweden for an “independent review” of the German findings using new samples from Navalny.
Navalny, the most visible opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was flown to Germany two days after falling ill on Aug. 20 on a domestic flight in Russia. Berlin has demanded that Russia investigate the case.
The Berlin hospital treating Navalny said Monday his condition continues to improve.
The Charité hospital said Navalny “has been successfully removed from mechanical ventilation.” It added in a statement that “he is currently undergoing mobilization and is able to leave his bed for short periods of time.”
The statement didn’t address the long-term outlook for the 44-year-old Russian politician and anti-corruption investigator. Doctors have cautioned that even though Navalny is recovering well, long-term health problems from the poisoning cannot be ruled out.
Seeking answers from Moscow
Seibert on Monday renewed Germany’s demand that “Russia explain itself” on the matter. He added that “we are in close consultation with our European partners on further steps.”
The Kremlin has bristled at calls from Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders for Russia to answer questions in the case, denying any official involvement and accusing the West of trying to smear Moscow.
Seibert wouldn’t identify the specialist French and Swedish labs. But the head of the Swedish Defence Research Agency, Asa Scott, told Swedish news agency TT: “We can confirm that we see the same results as the German laboratory — that is, that there is no doubt that it is about these substances.”
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “deep concern over the criminal act” that targeted Navalny during a phone call with Putin on Monday, Macron’s office said.
Macron confirmed that France reached the same conclusions as its European partners on the poisoning, according to the statement. “A clarification is needed from Russia within the framework of a credible and transparent investigation,” it added.
Russian authorities have prodded Germany to share the evidence that led it to conclude “without doubt” that Navalny was poisoned with a military nerve agent from the Novichok group, the same class of Soviet-era chemical weapons that British authorities said was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, in 2018.
No ground for criminal case: Kremlin
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the West of using the incident as a pretext to introduce new sanctions against Moscow. He said Navalny’s life was saved by the pilots of the plane who quickly landed in the Siberian city of Omsk when he collapsed on board, and by the rapid action of doctors there.
“The perfect action of pilots, ambulance crew and doctors is being presented as a ‘happy coincidence,'” in the West, he told RTVI television in an interview broadcast on Monday.
“They dare to question the professionalism of our doctors, our investigators,” he said. “Arrogance and a sense of one’s own infallibility have been seen in Europe before, and the consequences were very sad.”
Lavrov said Russian authorities have conducted a preliminary inquiry and documented the meetings Navalny had before falling ill, but he emphasized they need to see the evidence of his poisoning to launch a full criminal investigation.
“We have our own laws, whereby we cannot believe someone’s say-so to open a criminal case,” he said, adding that “for now, we have no legal grounds” for such a probe.
Lavrov cancelled a planned trip to Berlin on Tuesday, citing scheduling issues.
Berlin has rejected suggestions from Moscow that it is dragging its heels.
WATCH l Sept. 2: Germany says tests conclude Navalny dosed with Novichok:
Asked why no samples from Navalny have been given to Russia, German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Adebahr replied that “Mr. Navalny was in Russian treatment in a hospital for 48 hours.”
Once he became ill, Navalny was treated at a hospital in Omsk, where Russian doctors said no evidence of poisoning could be found. A German charity sent a medical evacuation plane to bring him to Berlin for treatment.
“There are samples from Mr. Navalny on the Russian side,” Adebahr said. “The Russian side is called on, even after three independent labs have established the result, to explain itself, and Russia has … all the information and all the samples it needs for an analysis.”
Navalny was kept in an induced coma for more than a week as he was treated with an antidote, before hospital officials said a week ago that his condition had improved enough for him to be brought out of it.