Russian President, Vladimir Putin has come out to boast that if Russian special forces had wanted to kill opposition politician Alexey Navalny, they would have “finished it.”
Putin’s boast comes after a damning report by the investigative group Bellingcat and CNN, published Monday, December 14 which uncovered evidence that Russia’s Federal Security Service (the FSB) formed an elite team specializing in nerve agents that trailed Navalny for years.
Navalny, a top Putin critic and Putin’s most powerful opponent, was poisoned with the special grade nerve toxin, Novichok in August and nearly died.
After initial treatment in Omsk, Siberia, he was taken to a clinic in Berlin after the German government specially asked the Kremlin to release him to them.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in his poisoning despite Navalny and other Western governments pointing fingers towards Russia.
The report claimed that experts in toxicology said Novichok could take up to 12 hours to affect the nervous system, depending on the dosage and how it’s administered. Short of injecting exactly the right dose into someone, it is almost impossible for the perpetrator to dose Novichok so as to incapacitate rather than kill.
Putin claimed Thursday, December 17, in response to a question at his annual press conference that Navalny wasn’t a target for death by the FSB, Russia’s Secret Service even though he didn’t dispute any details of the findings by CNN and Bellingcat.
He then confirmed that FSB agents did indeed trail Navalny.
He also referred to Navalny as “this patient in the Berlin clinic” -, adding, “if that’s correct, then that’s interesting, then of course [our] special services need to keep an eye on him.”
“But that doesn’t mean he needs to be poisoned, who needs him anyway? If [they] wanted to, they would’ve probably finished it,” Putin added.
“But in this case, his wife asked me, and I immediately gave the order to let him out of the country to be treated in Germany… This is a trick to attack the leaders [in Russia].”
“There is actually nothing surprising about the fact that these implanted stories are taking place. They have always been and will always be,” he said.
In a short Q&A session after the 4.5-hour event, Putin claimed the CNN-Bellingcat investigation, which established that a group of FSB agents trailed opposition leader Navalny using billing data obtained by Bellingcat, was a form of “information warfare” facilitated by foreign special services.
Asked whether he believes that the personal data of Russian security officers being “stolen” by other intelligence agencies is a “routine thing,” Putin replied:
“This happens all the time and this happens everywhere, we know that they are not even hiding that, and some former employees of the NSA talk about this in general, not only in terms of us but even their own citizens.
“This is how the special services work there. I honestly don’t see anything [special] in it, this is just a compilation, a dump where everything is being dumped, dumped, dumped in hopes that it will make an impression on the citizens, instill mistrust towards political leadership,”
Putin added. “This is one of the forms of information warfare.”
Navalny continues his recovery in Germany after spending weeks in a coma in Berlin’s Charite clinic.
On Thursday for the first time, he responded to questions from the Russian authorities about the poisoning.
“I spent the entire first half of the day in the German prosecutor’s office. They interrogated me at the request of the Russian side,” Navalny wrote on his Facebook page.
“[Russian authorities] asked [the German side] to interrogate me and sent in their questions. I was asked these questions, the answers were protocoled and will be sent to Moscow,” Navalny added in his post.
Putin also said he hoped some of the problems between the US and Russia would be resolved under the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.
“We proceed from the fact that the elected president of the United States will understand what’s going on — he is an experienced man, both in domestic and foreign policy,” Putin said.
Asked why the Russian hackers did not “help get Trump elected” in the 2020 presidential run, Putin slammed the question — from famous musician-turned-journalist Sergey Shnurov — as a provocation and once again denied any interference in US elections.
“Russian hackers did not help the still-acting US president get elected and did not intervene in the internal affairs of this great country,” Putin said.
“This is just a speculation. It is a pretext to hurt US-Russia relations; it’s a pretext to not acknowledge the legitimacy of the still-acting head of state of the US due to internal political reasons.”
Putin was also asked if Russia would be willing to support Trump after he leaves office and give him a job or an asylum in Russia, as granted to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden
“There is no need for Trump to seek a job [in Russia]. Almost 50% of the population voted for him if we count the popular vote and not the electoral college,” Putin said.
“[Trump] has a fairly large support base within the United States, and, as far as I understand, he is not going to leave the political life of his country.”
Putin then accused the US intelligence services of interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs by “planting” stories about the financial activities of his family and allies, without offering any evidence.
“That’s the State Department and the US security services, they are the real authors. Anyway, this has clearly been done on their orders. This is absolutely obvious,” Putin said.