MOSCOW—Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny blamed President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning with a Soviet-era nerve agent and promised to return to Moscow to fight for political change in Russia.
The opposition politician, who has accumulated an enormous online following with exposes of Kremlin-linked corruption, said he was poisoned with a new type of Novichok and that the restricted nature of the nerve agent made it clear the Kremlin was behind his attack. The highly potent toxin can only be produced at certain labs and at a specific temperature, according to scientists who helped develop the poison.
“I believe Putin is personally behind the attack on me,” he said on his website on Thursday.
The statement came hours after a German magazine published Mr. Navalny’s first account of the events surrounding his poisoning in late August.
“I will not give Putin the gift of not returning to Russia,” Mr. Navalny told Der Spiegel in the interview published Thursday. “I do not want to be an opposition leader in exile.”
Mr. Navalny’s poisoning has spotlighted Russia’s political opposition and the challenges it has faced under Mr. Putin’s 20-year rule, and threatens to become another geopolitical flashpoint in relations between Moscow and the West.
Experts in Germany, France and Sweden have said Mr. Navalny was poisoned—a conclusion disputed by the Kremlin. Western governments have pushed Moscow to open an investigation into Mr. Navalny’s illness, but Moscow has refused to do so until authorities in Germany, where he was flown for treatment when comatose, share more evidence.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr. Navalny’s accusation was unfounded and unacceptable.
“We want to investigate what happened, but to do that we need more information,” Mr. Peskov told reporters at a briefing Thursday. He said Mr. Navalny was likely working with Western intelligence, a claim often leveled at the opposition politician.
Mr. Navalny ridiculed the comments on his website Thursday.
“My first reaction was a healthy child’s laugh,” he said, adding that he would file a lawsuit against Mr. Peskov and demand that the Kremlin publishes evidence of his alleged “work with CIA specialists.”
Recounting the last minutes before he fell unconscious to the German magazine, Mr. Navalny said he felt no pain but was convinced he was dying. He said his days now consist of walks in a Berlin park, physiotherapy and spending time on social media in the evening.
When asked why he was poisoned, he said he believed the space for political dissent has shrunk to such an extent in Russia that poison, a tool once reserved for traitors, could be used against a legitimate opposition figure.
Mr. Navalny said the Kremlin wanted to crack down on its domestic enemies after anti-Kremlin protests erupted in Russia’s Far East in July and are still ongoing.
Mr. Putin is also troubled by massive antigovernment street protests in Belarus against his ally, President Alexander Lukashenko, following disputed elections in August, analysts have said. The last thing Mr. Putin wants is for an authoritarian leader in his backyard to be toppled by the type of people power that Mr. Navalny is capable of rallying, they said.
“Something in Putin’s head has changed,” the opposition leader said. “The reality has changed.”
Write to Thomas Grove at [email protected]
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