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3 Sep, 2020 09:27

Navalny case a serious problem for Kremlin: International spotlight means Russia has to transparently investigate & find answers

Navalny case a serious problem for Kremlin: International spotlight means Russia has to transparently investigate & find answers

Russia now faces an urgent dilemma. As far as its Western partners are concerned, a prominent figure has either been poisoned in a state-ordered hit, or private actors have managed to act with impunity, in defiance of the law.

Ever since opposition figure Alexey Navalny fell ill on a flight from Tomsk nearly two weeks ago, Russian authorities have given the impression of being in a state of denial. In the face of demands that Moscow launch an investigation into Navalny’s apparent poisoning, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov essentially denied that there was anything to investigate.

Until the German doctors treating Navalny named the poison which had harmed him, the Russian position was to go with the diagnosis of the doctors in Omsk, who originally treated Navalny, which was that the well-known oppositionist had not been poisoned but was suffering from a metabolic imbalance. No poison – no investigation, was the line.

Now the Germans have named the substance, and it couldn’t be worse news for the Kremlin. According to Berlin, Navalny was attacked with a Novichok nerve agent, similar to that used in the alleged attempted murder of Russian-born British spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom. The parallels with the Skripal case will immediately lead many to jump to the conclusion that the Russian state is responsible for the attack.

Also on rt.com Germany's Merkel claims someone wanted to 'silence' Navalny, but spokesman says 'poisoning' revelation won't affect Nord Stream 2

Some, no doubt, will cast doubt on this diagnosis. Certainly, it is unlikely that the Russian authorities will just take Berlin’s word for it. For this reason, it is vital that the Germans share all their data with the Russian government, in order to prove the case that a Novichok nerve agent was involved. If they can’t, or won’t, some will draw the conclusion that the diagnosis is flawed. Maximum transparency on all sides is essential if wild conspiracy theories are to be suppressed.

As it is, the Russian authorities have not done themselves any favors by leaving it to Germany to come up with the diagnosis of Novichok poisoning. It may be understandable that the initial Russian analysis of Navalny’s blood failed to reveal a nerve agent – this is not something that one would ordinarily be looking for.

However, one must assume that Russia has specialist laboratories capable of finding such agents, and it would have made sense to have involved them the moment that the Germans first suggested the possibility of poisoning of this sort. Instead, the Russian government has made no suggestion that it has bothered to do so, or, if it has, of what it found. Outsiders might be forgiven for feeling that it didn’t seem particularly interested in finding answers. But It should be.

Also on rt.com Developers of ‘Novichok’ say Navalny's symptoms aren't consistent with poisoning by their deadly creation, reject German claims

If one accepts the nerve agent thesis, there are a number of different explanations. The first is that the attempt on Navalny’s life was ordered at the highest levels of the Russian state. This seems somewhat plausible, in that one might imagine that the use of substances like Novichok requires high level access and authorization. That said, it’s very hard to see why Russia’s leaders would order a very public murder attempt on a high profile victim. They have to date allowed Navalny to continue operating even when they had a chance to put him in jail. Suddenly deciding to kill him doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Having said that, one suspects that many people outside Russia, and some within it, will find this explanation plausible. If the Kremlin refuses to accept the diagnosis that Navalny was poisoned, and fails to take action to thoroughly investigate in a very open manner, those people will no doubt take it as proof of guilt. It’s in Moscow’s interests to avoid this outcome.

A second possibility is something along the lines of the murder of Thomas à Becket, lower level state operatives taking their cue from their leader muttering, ‘Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?’ and deciding to take action without specific authorization from above. This is perhaps slightly more probable than the first explanation, but if true, it suggests that Russia’s leaders lack control over their subordinates, as well as over access to what should be highly restricted poisons.

Also on rt.com Novichok-like chemical agent used to poison Russian opposition figure Navalny, German government claims

It also suggests a degree of recklessness and irresponsibility among those subordinates, which can only alarm those in command of them. If this is the case, it very much demands a firm response to prevent such events from ever happening again.

A third possibility is that the attack on Navalny was ordered by a private actor. In the course of his anti-corruption investigations, Navalny has no doubt made many enemies, not all of whom occupy positions in the state apparatus. It is entirely possible that one of them may have wished to take revenge. But if this is what happened, it means that nerve agents are either circulating in private hands in Russia or are being brewed up somewhere by private individuals.

Either option must be highly disturbing to the authorities. No state wants private individuals to be going around attacking each other with high grade poisons. Again, therefore, this explanation requires a strong government response.

Regardless of which explanation is correct, Russia’s leaders have a serious problem. On the one hand, they face the prospect of being blamed for trying to kill a prominent critic. And on the other hand, if they themselves are not responsible, they find themselves having to deal with unknown people poisoning citizens of their country with military grade nerve agents. Either way, only very firm and visible action to get to the bottom of the case can help the Kremlin dig itself out of the hole it now finds itself in.

Also on rt.com Germany's allegations about Navalny could be justification for pre-planned anti-Russian ‘response’ – Russian Foreign Ministry

That, though, first requires a change in attitude and an end to the public state of denial. Perhaps the announcement by the Germans will finally induce such a change.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.