MOSCOW (AP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday dismissed allegations that the Kremlin was behind its top political rivalry, the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and accused US intelligence agencies of thwarting claims because they had better relations Washington was expected
Putin also hoped that President-elect Joe Biden’s administration would move to expand the last remaining US-Russian arms control agreement, which is scheduled to expire in early February.
Speaking via video hookup during their annual marathon news conference lasting 4 1/2 hours, the Russian leader countered the allegations, saying that if the Kremlin had wanted to poison Navalny, he would have succeeded.
“If there was such a wish, it would have been done,” Putin quipped.
Navalny fell ill on 20 August during a domestic flight to Russia and was in a coma in Berlin for treatment two days later. Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests conducted by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons established that he was exposed to the Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.
Russian authorities have denied any involvement in the poisoning.
On Monday, investigative group Bellingcat and Russian outlet The Insider released a report in which FSB, Russia’s domestic security agency, a top KGB successor, followed Navalny during his visits since 2017, including chemical weapons. Had special training of Chemistry and Medicine, “and” were in the vicinity of the opposition worker during the days and hours of the deadline during which he was poisoned. “
The investigation, conducted in collaboration with CNN and Der Speagle, identified alleged FSB operators and laboratories working on poisoning such as Novichok after analyzing telephone metadata and flight information. It cited two examples in 2019 and 2020, in which Navalny or his wife Yulia suffered from unexplained symptoms.
Navalny said the investigation proved beyond doubt that FSB operatives tried to kill Putin on orders.
In his first comment following the report’s publication, Putin alleged that it relied on data provided by US spy agencies. Its authors deny any links to the US or any other Western intelligence services.
“This is not an investigation of any kind, it is just the legalization of materials provided by American special services,” he said, adding that Navalny “relies on support for American special services.”
“It’s curious, and in that case, specialized services really need to keep an eye on it,” Putin said. “But that doesn’t mean he needs to be poisoned. Who would need that?”
The President confirmed conducting a joint investigation for Germany and others and sharing specific evidence of the venom of the naval, including his biological samples.
Speaking in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Russia had enough opportunity to investigate the matter.
“In the past weeks and months, we have seen a lot of smoke screens taken by Moscow in relation to the Navalny case,” he said. “I believe there have been many opportunities in Russia to investigate the things that have happened in connection with Mr. Navalny’s poisoning or at least to start an investigation, but that has never been the case and we have to There is serious doubt about their willingness to fulfill their obligations. “
Putin alleged that Navalny was accusing the Kremlin of ordering him to poison her to raise his political profile. As before, Putin avoided mentioning Navalny by name, calling him a “blogger” and a “Berlin patient”.
Navalny said after the news conference that Putin effectively confirmed the investigation report and proved that the FSB had been shadowing him for almost four years. “Even Putin, who is the king of lies, cannot deny that the FSB operatives chased me,” he said on YouTube. He confirmed that he was planning to return home from Germany to continue his fight against the Kremlin.
Even as Putin accused the US spy agencies, he kept the door open for cooperation with the incoming administration. Putin congratulated Biden on the victory earlier this week.
“We proceed with the notion that the newly elected US President will realize what is happening. He is very experienced in both domestic and foreign policies and we hope that at least some of the problems that have come up will be resolved under the new administration, ”said Putin.
He noted that Russia is set to expand the last remaining US-Russian nuclear weapons control agreement, which is the new start scheduled to begin in February. He said the deal’s demise is “no restriction on weapons systems.”
Putin emphasized that Russia is ready to discuss its new hypersonic weapon system, including the Avangard Glide vehicle in future arms control negotiations with the United States. He alleged that Moscow built Avangard and other new weapons to prevent the US-designed missile defense system from ending Russia’s nuclear deterrence.
“We had to either develop our own missile defense, or create a system immunity for missile defense,” said Putin. “We did it with hypersonic weapons including the Avenger.”
Russian officials say Avangard can fly up to 27 times faster than the speed of sound and perform brisk maneuvers on its way to dodge the enemy’s missile shield.
Putin said Russia is also completing tests for another hypersonic missile, the Zircon, designed for its warships and submarines.
The Russian leader said that in 2018 he announced that the development of other weapon systems, including the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile and the Poseidon nuclear drone, were proceeding as planned.
Poseidon is capable of a nuclear explosion, causing a powerful tsunami.
Russia-US relations have sunk after the Cold War after Moscow’s 2014 Crimean peninsula in Ukraine and Russian mediation in the 2016 US presidential election.
Putin has reaffirmed the Russian refusal to help Donald Trump win in the 2016 vote and dismissed media reports earlier this month alleging a new attack by Russian hackers, alleging The US authorities were alleged to have made claims for domestic policy goals.
Asked if Russia would offer Trump political asylum and do the job after he stepped down, Putin replied that “Trump needs the job.”
“He has a broad base of support in the United States and, as far as I understand, he has no intention of leaving the politics of the country,” said Putin.
Associated Press writer David Rising in Berlin contributed.