Last month, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny fell ill during a flight to Moscow. His colleagues and allies were dismayed to see him being held a Russian hospital, and demanded he be moved by air ambulance to a German hospital. After being in the care of doctors in Berlin for weeks, Navalny is believed to have been poisoned.
On Wednesday, German officials confirmed that Navalny was poisoned by a rare form of nerve agent. The agent in question is from the Novichok family of poisons. Novichok agents were created in secret by Soviet scientists in the 1980s. They are extremely rare and almost never seen outside of Russia. The presence of the nerve agent has led many to believe the poisoning was the intentional work of the Russian government.
Navalny is a blogger who has spent years calling out the Russian government. He is dedicated to a cause of anti-corruption, according to his supporters. He’s become a politician in recent years and is the main voice of opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Putin seized power roughly twenty years ago and has been president since.
Putin claims his rule over Russia is legitimate because he’s won democratic elections. His opponents have pointed out that few political rivals survive long in Russia when they run against Putin, however. Navalny’s chief of staff, Leonid Volkov, has admitted that he believes Putin is now targeting his friend. He tweeted Wednesday that the use of Novichok nerve gas is like Putin “leaving his signature,” adding “This is beyond any reasonable doubt.”
German Prime Minister Angela Merkel has demanded Russia tell the international community what it knows about the assassination attempt. Pundits online have largely accused Putin himself of being responsible. Heads of state have not stated such an accusation publicly, though there is subtext in Europe that suggests this reading.
In the US, this has raised questions about President Donald Trump’s close ties to Vladimir Putin. Throughout his presidency, Trump has been accused of being “cozy” with authoritarian leaders while alienating the US’s democratic allies. His relationship with Putin has been the subject of controversy domestically.
A lengthy investigation by Robert Mueller found there were links between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian nationals. However, Mueller stopped short of accusing Trump of conspiring with Russia in order to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. How this latest unfolding of events in Russia will impact Trump and Putin’s relationship remains unclear.