Lev Shlosberg: The poisoning of Aleksei Navalny as a state secret

21 August 2020

Lev Shlosberg, human rights activist, public figure, deputy of the Pskov Regional Assembly of Deputies, journalist, winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group Prize in the field of human rights activism:

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Echo of Moscow]

On 20 August a third attempt to poison Aleksei Navalny took place.

The first episode happened on 27 April 2017, when Navalny was leaving the offices of the Anti-Corruption Foundation: a hooligan ran up to him and threw the contents of a glass into his face. As a result, he lost 80% of the vision in his right eye, but treatment helped him recover. After that, goons wrote about “the green”. Nobody looked for the culprit.

The second episode (28 July 2019) happened when Aleksei was arrested and jailed after protests over candidates for elections to the Moscow City Duma who were refused registration. Then he suddenly developed a swelling on his face, which prison doctors explained as a sudden allergic reaction (the first in his life). The allergen has not been identified.

Nobody has been punished for either crime; neither those who paid for it, nor those who organised it nor those who carried it out. What’s more, both cases were accompanied by hooting mockery from the pro-Putin goons. What is impunity combined with public mockery? It’s gratitude for the “work” you’ve done, and promotion.

Poisoning is a favourite method used by special services in this political war (it cannot be called a struggle, it is an undeclared war). It is impossible to investigate incidents of poisoning in a state where the secret service emerges as the only party in power. How did the investigation into the murder of Yuri Shchekochikhin end? The attempt to poison Anna Politkovskaya (before her actual murder)? The two assassination attempts on Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr.? The attempt on the life of Pyotr Verzilov?

All the lessons of Russian political poisoning show that the politicians who pay for these crimes guarantee not only their non-disclosure, but promotion for the criminals. So there is no element of danger to create a barrier for those who become accessories.

It is extremely regrettable that doctors are involved in most of these crimes: at best they are ordered to be silent, at worst, to lie. In essence, to break the Hippocratic oath. Medicine as a servant (in terms of developing poisons) and a hostage (in terms of the paralysis of medical duty) of the special services is a tragic symbol of our country.

Meanwhile, the success of doctors is half the success of the investigation. Without an answer to the question of what kind of poison was administered to Aleksei Navalny, the question of who at least perpetrated the crime will not be resolved or, in any case their identities will not be proven.

The reason for the critically long pause in transferring Navalny outside Russia for treatment is most likely that the composition of the poison is a state secret. The time needed for its decay in the body is the time needed for masking the traces of the crime.

Depending on the ingredients of a poison, it is possible to establish the manufacturer (the places of possible production) and, most importantly, to clarify the active mechanism, allowing treatment that is based not just on symptoms but on evidence. Discovery of the formula of the poison is the biggest step towards creating an antidote and rendering the poison less valuable to those who commission its use.

In such a situation, the life of a person means nothing; the main task of the authorities is to preserve the secret of the instrument of crime, which must remain suitable for use.

Putin sits at the head of all power structures in Russia. He leads them directly, he moulds the top command staff, he sets the priorities for their work. In a police state, the president is the chief police officer. He decides questions of life and death.

Without Putin’s consent, it is impossible to take Navalny out of Omsk and abroad (Navalny, by the way, is under house arrest), to accept external assistance; impossible to provide not only a chance of survival for a person who is on the verge of life and death, but also an opportunity for specialists who cannot be controlled by Russian power (that is, by Putin), to conduct research and draw their own conclusions.

The clues and evidence in such cases are often indirect. The broad picture of the crime is made up of many circumstantial details – a multitude that allows you to see the plan and prove the intent. And the court of society, like the jury, can issue its verdict, answering one single question: do I believe in the guilt of the suspect, or do I not?

Translated by Anna Bowles

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