By Sven Haas – Oct 15, 2020
The high-profile case of Alexey Navalny’s poisoning, apparently, will not subside soon. This incident faced a stormy international reaction and served as an excellent opportunity to punish Russia. In order to exclude any possible manipulations with facts, we recreated the timeline, which helped to identify discrepancies and designate possible versions of what had happened.
This timeline allows us to replicate the experience and helps to analyse every side of the story. At the same time, the identification of the available facts, as well as separation of false statements pointed at numerous inconsistencies. All this made it possible to put several main versions of Navalny’s poisoning in the context of the motives of the attackers. First, we reviewed the official version of the German’s investigation team.
Version 1. Navalny was poisoned by Russian authorities
To investigate this version in a clinical fashion, it is necessary to outline Navalny’s place in Russia’s political landscape. Alexey Navalny became popular after his investigation videos about illegal enrichment of Russian officials, as well as fraudulent activity in Russia’s state structures. At first glance, the version that the poisoning of Navalny could have been planned by Kremlin officials seemed very convincing. But could the representatives of the Russian authorities actually organize it?
First, there are strong doubts about the fact that the “victims” of Navalny’s investigation would decide to liquidate the offender. They could easily pay off with removal from power and an inquiry into charges of corruption.
Secondly, the poisoning of Navalny is not beneficial to Russia in economic terms. Political strategists and leading analysts in the Russian the government are quite capable of calculating that such an incident would cause a wide public outcry not only in Russia but also far beyond its borders. It is easy to calculate the possible consequences: massive unauthorized rallies in the country, new sanctions and the suspension of Nord Stream 2. All this would certainly hit the wallets of Russian authorities.
Third, if the Kremlin really had poisoned Navalny, no one would have ever been allowed the opposition leader to be evacuated to Germany.
Moreover, the political life of Alexey in Russia did not present significant prospects. The opposition leader did not represent serious competition to pro-government structures. The tremendous success of Navalny’s entire political career was the election of the mayor of Moscow in 2013 when Alexey almost made it to the second round.
The latest poll by the Russian Levada Center records only 2% of confidence in him. Probably, his ratings were seriously affected by the Kirovles case, in which Navalny was accused.
From a scientific point of view, such “assassination” method looks even more confusing. According to German medical experts, a Novichok-class chemical warfare agent was used in the incident. The exact formula of the chemical has not been disclosed. Many politicians and experts were sure that only Russians knew the formula for making this dangerous substance. However, this is not entirely true.
Novichok became widely known in 2008 from the work of the Russian scientist Vil Mirzayanov. From his book, the public became aware of the development of four stable substances of the Novichok group: A-230, A-232, A-234, and A-242. However, back in 1998, long before Mirzayanov’s revelations, the chemical formula and mass spectrum of the substance A-234 were discovered in the NIST98 Spectral Library of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), USA. The same formula is available in the database of the British Royal Society of Chemistry. As we see, the “top-secret” Russian weapon is not only in the hands of the Russians.
Also, at the beginning of 2019, a group of theoretical chemists from Mauritius and South Africa became interested in the substance. They used numerical simulations to study the reactivity and other chemical properties of A-234. Ultimately, the experts confirmed that not only Russians are capable of synthesizing the substance. Moreover, the N-1 scientific journal proves that any country with a developed chemical industry is capable of synthesizing substances like Novichok.
On December 23, 2019, liquid substances A-230, A-232, and A-234 were prohibited by OPCW and added to Schedule 1 of the Annex on Chemicals to the Chemical Weapons Convention. However, the situation with solid type A-242 is the most interesting.
It could become a great chance to accuse Russia of developing and testing a new type of chemical agent in order to avoid the OPCW ban, but Russians have added it to Schedule 1 on July 7, 2020.
Version 2. Navalny was poisoned by his supporters and sponsors
Some media outlets admit that Alexey Navalny could have been excluded from the opposition because he has already been swept into the political wastebasket. Logical questions arise: “who wanted him to be excluded?” and “why was it necessary to kill him?”
First, we should remember the project called the Smart Vote, promoted by Alexey Navalny so hard. Smart Vote was developed by Russian political opposition to break the monopoly of power of the “United Russia” (Yedinaya Rossiya), the largest political party in Russian Federation. Unfortunately, the project was unable to change the situation with the elections. Moreover, an analysis of the voting results questioned Navalny’s leadership, as many expected more success. It seemed that Navalny deliberately misled his audience and his sponsors.
Secondly, the all-Russian constitutional amendments voting events were also indicative. Navalny’s view on the referendum differed from the position of numerous oligarchs, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has urged the Russian population to rally and riot. They invested considerable sums in the promotion of protests, while Navalny stole a significant number of their likely supporters. This could provoke Khodorkovsky into decisive actions against his competitor.
However, not only Khodorkovsky could have initiated the assassination attempt. Vladimir Ashurkov, who promoted Alexey Navalny at the beginning of his career, might have more serious motives. As we know, Ashurkov’s help to Navalny provoked the loss of his post as a top manager in Alfa Group, as well as conflict with the intelligence services and the granting of political asylum by Great Britain.
Navalny’s sponsor Vladimir Ashurkov
After Navalny drew too much attention from influential businessmen and officials of the Anti-corruption foundation (FBK), which eventually was recognized as a foreign agent, the former banker became very worried about his brainchild. It became impossible to legally use the Smart Vote technology and influence the electoral processes. The funding was also limited.
Moreover, the decision to liquidate the FBK was made without the businessman’s approval. Perhaps, when the juridical entity was closed, Navalny could have withdrawn the remaining funds from the accounts and appropriated it for himself. This could anger Ashurkov considering his financial struggles: a number of companies owned by the businessman have recently suffered losses totalling 3 million pounds.
The businessman clearly did not like the numerous dubious financial frauds that Navalny carried out. Most likely, serious debts, as well as the aggressive information campaign of Prigozhin’s units against the FBK and its subsequent liquidation led to conflict. Given this fact, it cannot be ruled out that the former Alfa Group top manager was involved in the poisoning attempt.
In addition, Ashurkov, who was striving to return the money spent at any cost could also derive additional benefit from the poisoning, raising the ratings of the opposition in Russia. Blaming the Kremlin for the failed assassination attempt has boosted Navalny’s popularity. Leonid Volkov, the head of the FBK regional headquarters’ network said that “the opposition’s duty is to make the most of the situation with the poisoning in order to benefit from the Smart Vote in the upcoming elections.”
Version 3. Navalny was poisoned by his associate MariaPevchik h
Maria Pevchikh among Navalny’s supporters
The possibility of Navalny’s poisoning by his mysterious associate Maria Pevchikh looks quite plausible. The information on the woman is contradictory and scarce, as Maria prefers to leave no traces on the Internet and most likely uses social media under an assumed name. She also has close ties with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Bill Browder, and Vladimir Ashurkov.
Since 2011, Maria has been unofficially working for the Anti-corruption foundation and performs various functions for collecting information on the property of the Russian oligarchs and officials abroad for Alexey Navalny. Usually, such information is classified and cannot be found in the public domain that suggests the cooperation between the British special services and Navalny’s assistant. We have failed to detect a joint photo of Pevchikh and Navalny as well as her links with the Anti-corruption foundation before the events in Tomsk.
Exactly her links with Great Britain closed private life in the digital age, and many other inconsistencies, including the sudden idea of stealing a bottle of water from Navalny’s room number, makes us examine the version of her involvement in poisoning in detail.
First, there is something strange about her travel across Russia. From Tomsk to Omsk one could quickly fly by airplane with a landing in Novosibirsk. Instead, she got to Novosibirsk by car. In an interview with BBC Maria said about the lack of direct route between these two Siberian cities that is actually not true.
Secondly, the seizure of the bottle from Xander hotel in Tomsk by Navalny’s team and Maria Pevchikh can be categorised as a crime according to Russian law. They violated the rules for collecting and transporting material evidence. In addition, while being in the room number, the Navalny’s supporters focused precisely on the bottle, despite many other things and clothes. From outside, it looks as if someone knew in advance what would become the key evidence in this sticky case.
Third, it remains a mystery how people who contacted Alexey Navalny didn’t get exposed to the nerve agent if it was actually used. This fact clearly doesn’t correspond with unprecedented measures taken by the UK after the Skripal poisoning.
Alexey Navalny surrounded by people without masks and gloves before departure in Tomsk
British specialists in Salisbury
Currently, we can’t directly say that Maria Pevchikh is a British intelligence officer. Perhaps, she is just an indifferent employee of Anti-corruption foundation, and the special services simply exploited her. But if we assume that Maria is somehow linked with the poisoning, three possible versions of Novichok appearance in Navalny’s medical tests can emerge.
For instance, several tabloids rushed to report that the father of Maria, who is co-founder of several medical companies, provided her with the poisonous substance. Then it turned out that he is just a marketer who doesn’t have access to Novichok and other substances.
The second version looks much more transparent. The substance could have been handed over to Pevchikh by the British specialists. They told her in advance how to use it and get rid of the evidence. Moreover, the experts could calculate the dose of a substance that would only cause coma and choose the location of poisoning. At the same time, Navalny was under the close watch of the Russian FSB, and only Pevchikh could get closer to the opposition leader and poison him.
We also should not exclude the third variant, where Novichok doesn’t exist at all, and Navalny faked poisoning himself. Simultaneously Pevchikh as Navalny’s confident performs this show with the bottle of water. Then the British special services or CIA put pressure on the OPCW, Germany, and international laboratories to detect the prohibited substance in Navalny’s blood.
In the second and third cases, Great Britain, probably alongside the CIA, carried out a flawless operation and concurrently framed Germany, which is now forced to suspend the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. In this case, Novichok was chosen as it is strongly associated with the Salisbury incident.
The likelihood of the third option is indirectly evidenced by a joint photo of Navalny and his family published on Instagram after coming out of a coma. The monitor with medical indicators in the background attracted our attention. A number of experts claim that he was deliberately blurred to cover up the medical indicators, which most likely have long been normal.
Navalny’s photo after coming out of coma
The Russian side was stumped due to the actions of Navalny’s supporters, who had concealed the investigation results. At the same time, the German authorities directly refused to convey information to Russian specialists and offered to act through OPCW. For his part, Navalny also refused to cooperate with Russia, which gives Europe a monopoly on examining his medical tests.
Today the international community has a clear position concerning the guilt of the Russian leadership in this case, as Alexey Navalny has long been the greatest enemy of Vladimir Putin.
All of this demonstrates the commitment of German’s policy towards Navalny and Russia. Only two countries could stand behind the poisoning that continues to promote its political and business interests at the expense of others. Moreover, German political circles were clearly involved in a provocative scheme on influencing Russia to isolate it from the world community.
Featured image: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny posing for a selfie picture with his family at Berlin’s Charite hospital on Sept. 15, 2020. For undisclosed reasons his monitor screen was blurred.@navalny / AFP – Getty Images