Why was Navalny poisoned?

Doctors at Berlin's Charité hospital have found evidence that Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a cholinesterase inhibitor. These substances are found in chemical warfare agents but are also used for medicinal purposes. The Russian opposition figure has been in a coma since Thursday, and was flown to Berlin on the weekend from a hospital in Omsk. Commentators speculate on the motives for the attack.

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Echo of Moscow (RU) /

He was getting too dangerous

Navalny had gained too much political clout in Russia, writes opposition politician Ilya Yashin in Echo of Moscow:

“Navalny has an enormous audience, the size of a national TV channel's. The issues he addresses shape the agenda. He influences election results and can ruin political careers in [the ruling party] 'United Russia'. He is able to bring tens of thousands of supporters onto the streets. In short: Navalny is a major threat who could become problematic for Putin in the delicate phase of transfer of power. … The people in today's government come from the KGB school. They tried to solve the Navalny problem step by step through pressure and smear campaigns. That didn't work. So what's left? Right: no Navalny, no problem.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

The hunt has gotten out of control

Helsingin Sanomat believes that the Russian authorities lost control in the case of Navalny:

“At least two deputy heads of the presidential chancellery are tasked with discrediting Navalny [in public]. The FSB controls what he does, but so does the Interior Ministry. ... Theoretically it is possible that Putin ordered Navalny's poisoning, but it doesn't seem very likely. Why now, of all times? ... And why would Putin have let Navalny be brought to Berlin for treatment? This decision was definitely made without Putin's blessing. It looks very much as if no one is in charge of hunting down Nawalny any more, not even Putin himself. Does he still even run the country?”

Polityka (PL) /

A warning to Russians

If Navalny was poisoned it could only be for one reason, Polityka maintains:

“Putin has revealed his fears of a democratic movement, and that the Russians could be infected by the Belarusian uprising. After all, the events in Belarus send a signal to people that they too can express their discontent, take to the streets and rebel - like the people in Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East who for weeks have been protesting against the governor's arrest, recently also chanting 'Long live Belarus!' The presumed attack on Navalny was intended to intimidate the Russians and eliminate all thoughts of following the Belarusian route. However, it may lead to an entirely different ending.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Russian state is sitting in the dock

The Russian Federal Security Service is basically the only suspect in this case of poisoning, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung is convinced:

“Active ingredients such as the ones the Charité Hospital and associated independent research institutes have identified as the cause of illness don't get into the body 'by accident'. In fact what we have here is a chemical weapon. Quite apart from criminal energy, it takes a lot of chemical know-how and sophisticated organisational structures to manufacture such a weapon and use it in a targeted way. With few exceptions, only state security services can fulfil such requirements. ... After Monday's findings, the Russian state is now sitting in the dock.”

Echo of Moscow (RU) /

Kremlin already spinning the yarn

Echo of Moscow criticises the disinformation provided by the Russian state media in this case:

“Now we know why it was important to get him to Berlin as quickly as possible. If he'd been left in the Omsk clinic he'd have left it disabled - or dead. ... The state and its propaganda apparatus cannot acknowledge the obvious. Consequently we'll soon be hearing that Navalny was poisoned by his own entourage because his popularity was waning, that what he took was just vodka and caffeine, or that the Germans made it all up because the West sponsors Navalny and so on and so forth.”

Aftonbladet (SE) /

A case for The Hague

Aftonbladet is outraged that the political leadership has gone unpunished for so long:

“The former Russian opposition leader, liberal politician Boris Nemtsov, was shot in the back of the head in February 2015 in broad daylight, not far from the walls of the Kremlin. The escaped KGB agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia barely survived an attempted to kill them with the military nerve poison Novichok in Salisbury, England, in 2018. And now Alexei Navalny. Let us hope he survives. ... The Russian secret service apparently doesn't have much of an imagination, and it doesn't care whether the whole world knows who is behind the high death rate among Russian opposition members. In a fair world the entire Russian state leadership would have been brought before the international court in The Hague long ago.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

New fuel for conflict in German-Russian relations

Berlin correspondent for La Repubblica Tonia Mastrobuoni points out that relations between Moscow and Berlin have deteriorated once more:

“Two other cases have caused tensions in relations between Moscow and Berlin in recent months. The German investigations into the murder of a Chechen-Georgian dissident in Berlin in the summer of 2019 and into a major cyber attack against the Bundestag in 2015 have come to the conclusion that the number one suspect in both cases is the Russian secret service. In both cases, the Merkel government reacted only after the judges' verdict - by deporting Russian diplomats and threatening European sanctions. In the case of Navalny, however, Berlin has immediately adopted a clear position.”

Savon Sanomat (FI) /

A warning to the opposition

Savon Sanomat speculates on the motives for the poisoning attack:

“The temporal link between Navalny's poisoning and the events in Belarus is striking. The attempt to silence Navalny could easily be seen as a preventive measure to show that a popular uprising like the one in Belarus will not be tolerated in Russia. Putin's Russia is not the Soviet Union, for criticism of the Kremlin is tolerated as long as it does not destabilise the power structures. In its long history, Russia has not even taken the first steps on the path to a democracy in which the opposition would have a real opportunity to wield influence. Unfortunately, the bloody history of violence is repeating itself in attempted murders and murders.”

Echo of Moscow (RU) /

Three imaginable alternatives

Echo of Moscow editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov sketches three scenarios as to who could be behind the alleged poisoning:

“Navalny conducted investigations and uncovered the fraudulent schemes of well-known politicians and businessmen. That could be one reason. So the first would be an act of revenge by well-known, rich and powerful people who have the means to do something like this. The second version, mentioned by many, is that it was the Kremlin itself, which wanted to neutralise Navalny in the run-up to the regional elections in September. ... And then there is the version that one of the Kremlin towers, which is in a clinch with another Kremlin tower, wanted to show off its possibilities.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

It surely wasn't Putin

Commenting in The Daily Telegraph, Tony Brenton, former British ambassador to Moscow, says it is unlikely that Putin had ordered a poisoning:

“The parallel case is that of Boris Nemtsov, another charismatic opposition politician who was murdered right outside the Kremlin in 2015. Then too the world instinctively, and almost certainly mistakenly, blamed Putin. But Nemtsov, while an irritant to the regime in his life, became a much more potent spur to opposition as the martyr for democracy he became. The same would almost certainly be true of Navalny. Putin knows this. That is why I suspect he is highly unlikely to have ordered the attack - and instead will be quietly hoping for Navalny's swift recovery.”

Contributors (RO) /

Every opponent considered a traitor

The poisoned atmosphere in Russia paves the way for these crimes, sociologist Sorin Ioniță observes on Contributors:

“Perhaps the Kremlin didn't order something to be put into Navalny's tea in Tomsk, perhaps the murder of [Boris] Nemtsov wasn't directly ordered by Vladimir Putin, either. But the Nazi-Bolshevik atmosphere of the shielded fortress [the Kremlin], in which anyone who opposes the regime is automatically branded a traitor controlled by secret forces or paid by external enemies, a traitor who ultimately harms the Russian nation, is in itself tacit encouragement for anyone who wants to eliminate dangerous excesses.”

ABC (ES) /

Don't let Russia sink even further

What is happening in Russia deserves absolute condemnation by the international community, demands ABC:

“Russia does not deserve to live in this swamp of corruption and crime into which it has sunk in recent decades. This type of criminal act shines a light on Putin himself and his entourage, showing that their behaviour is far beyond civilised political standards. ... The fact that the entire opposition is accusing the regime of killing dissidents and critics exceeds all the acceptable limits of international coexistence and deserves absolute condemnation by the rest of the world.”