As soon as Alexei A. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, showed symptoms of poisoning last month, members of his team rushed to the Siberian hotel where he was staying and grabbed anything that could be used as evidence. including a bottle of water that tests showed was contaminated with a highly toxic nerve agent.
Although Russia claims it played no part in Mr Navalny’s poisoning, the new details – posted in Mr Navalny’s Instagram account – underscore his team’s deep concern for his well-being and his fears that he could fall victim to a series of attacks aimed at other Kremlin critics.
Mr Navalny’s team and German investigators say the plastic water bottle ultimately helped German military scientists determine that the opposition leader had been poisoned with a class of chemical weapons called Novichok, a Soviet-designed poison that Russian operatives have used at least one previous assassination attempt.
The rush to take evidence suggests that Mr Navalny and his team were prepared for the possibility of his life being carried out. In fact, in meetings with supporters around Russia, he was often asked how he survived, given his fierce criticism of the Kremlin and Russia’s most powerful figures.
His continued existence even fueled conspiracy theories that he was in fact a state puppet paid to play the role of an opposition figure, when in fact he never sought power.
On August 20, these doubts were allayed when Mr. Navalny began drowning and screaming on a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk.
As soon as Mr Navalny’s plane crashed, his assistants contacted members of the team who remained in Tomsk to tell them what had happened, according to Mr Navalny’s Instagram post.
“At that moment, they did the only thing that was possible,” the statement said. “They called a lawyer, went to the hotel room that Navalny had just left, and began to identify, record and collect everything they found, including bottles of water from the hotel.”
When Mr Navalny was taken from a Siberian hospital in Berlin on August 22, the evidence went with him. It is not clear how Mr Navalny’s team managed to take the bottle and other items out of the country without Russian officials knowing.
Russia has insisted since Mr Navalny first fell ill that he was not poisoned, and instead offers a number of alternative theories, such as that he used cocaine or had low blood sugar and simply had to eat sweets. . Such statements convinced Mr Navalny’s team that the Russian authorities had no interest in conducting a genuine investigation.
“It was absolutely clear to us that Navalny was not slightly ill or overheated and that Rafaello’s candy would not help,” the Instagram post said. “So we decided to take everything that could hypothetically be useful and give it to the doctors in Germany.”
An analysis by German military scientists at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology in Munich found traces of a nerve substance in the Novichok family in Mr Navalny’s blood and urine, as well as on one of the bottles. Based on the German findings, Mr Navalny’s team, according to an Instagram post, now believes he was poisoned in this hotel room and not at the airport, as they initially suspected.