The Kremlin has responded to Alexei Navalny’s explosive conversation-confession with one of his would-be assassins by suggesting the Kremlin critic was mentally unsound.
Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said he considered Monday’s gotcha phone call to be a fabrication – and a sign of Mr Navalny’s “delusions of grandeur … and persecution”.
The Kremlin’s most prominent domestic opponent was “fixated … in a Freudian fashion”, he said. “He even compares himself to Jesus.”
Already, tens of millions have watched the remarkable second part of Mr Navalny’s investigation, in which the opposition leader appears to secure a confession from one of the men involved in the operation ordered to make him disappear.
Pretending to be a Kremlin official writing a report, Mr Navalny spoke with spy Konstantin Kudryavtsev for a full 45 minutes.
In the call, Mr Kudryvatsev explained in agonising detail how he was dispatched to Omsk, where Mr Navalny was initially hospitalised, to clean up the botched operation.
He was asked to remove traces of the poison from the inner seams of the crotch area of the politician’s underwear, he confirmed – clarifying for the first time exactly how the poison was likely delivered. The agent also implicates several colleagues in the operation.
The revelations followed on from a joint Bellingcat-Insider-CNN investigation earlier this month that identified eight spies with medical and biochemistry backgrounds that had followed Mr Navalny for the best part of four years.
In his annual press conference on Thursday, Vladimir Putin was forced to admit that a “team” from the country’s security agency had been watching over Mr Navalny. This, he insisted, was for the politician’s own protection.
“If they’d wanted to poison him, they’d have finished the job,” he suggested, letting out an inappropriate chuckle.
In September, following his transfer to Germany, several independent European laboratories were able to isolate a Novichok nerve agent from the politician’s body and personal items.
First developed by the Soviet Union over the 1970s and 1980s, the Novichok family of compounds were also responsible for the 2018 attack against double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.
In mid-October, the European Union and the UK announced sanctions against six individuals, including top Kremlin officials, and a state research institution, which they said bore the responsibility for Mr Navalny’s poisoning. The outlines of the long-awaited Russian response to those sanctions became clear on Tuesday morning with the announcement of “mirror” counter measures against unnamed European officials.
In his comments to journalists, Mr Peskov railed against “baseless accusations” and refused to concede Mr Navalny had been poisoned.
“We haven’t been given the evidence we have asked for,” he said. “No one can say for definite he was poisoned.”