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An in-depth investigation claiming to have identified and linked an elite Russian intelligence unit to the nearly fatal poisoning of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, was met with deafening silence by top Russian officials more than 24 hours after the publication.
Monday’s investigation by Bellingcat and several media outlets revealed that FSB agents trailed opposition leader Mr Navalny for days before he was poisoned with a deadly nerve agent in Siberia in August, which left him in a coma for several weeks.
Several European laboratories independently confirmed that Mr Navalny’s blood had traces of the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, which was also used in the 2018 Salisbury poisoning of former Soviet spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
The 44-year-old politician, who is still in Germany where he was taken to for treatment, has backed the findings and blamed President Vladimir Putin for the attempt on his life.
More than a day after the investigation, which purports to be based on a trove of phone records and travel data, came out, neither the Kremlin, nor any top Russian officials have uttered a single word of comment.
Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman who typically talks to Russian media every morning, has canceled his briefing on Tuesday, citing preparations for the president’s annual press conference on Thursday.
In another unusual sign, most of the top Russian state TV presenters and media managers including RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan who are always happy to heap scorn on the Russian opposition in their broadcasts or on social media have been dead silent about the allegations.
“24 hours means 1,440 minutes of silence from Putin, Peskov, Lavrov, Simonyan and others, and every minute of it is like a verdict,” Leonid Volkov, Mr Navalny’s close ally, tweeted on Tuesday afternoon 24 hours after the investigation was published.
Mr Navalny’s YouTube video laying out the details of the alleged operation to kill him has already garnered nearly 7 million views.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Russian opposition in a radio interview on Tuesday reiterated his promise to return to Moscow as soon as German doctors decide that he is fit enough:
“I’m coming back to Russia because it’s my country where I enjoy a rather significant support and I’m grateful to people who are backing me. I have things to do in my country.”
He said that Bellingcat’s findings left him with no choice but to conclude that he was the victim of a “full-fledged operation that the FSB was carrying out as a mission of the state.”
“Without any exaggeration, this is a genuine terrorist attack,” he told Ekho Moskvy. “They would never had done it without Putin’s orders.”