Kremlin investigators want to speak to Alexei Navalny's ally Maria Pevchikh (pictured) about the dissident's poisoning
Kremlin investigators want to speak to a woman living in Great Britain about the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Maria Pevchikh, 33, was on a trip to Siberia with Navalny when he fell ill on a plane last month and was flown to Berlin after an attempt that Germany had described as an assassination attempt.
With Moscow under pressure to explain what happened, the UK-based Pevchikh could now ask questions from investigators who she says are "doing the opposite" to solve the case.
While Vladimir Putin has been suspected after three laboratories found evidence of Novichok, pro-Kremlin media have alleged Western intelligence or Navalny's own allies orchestrated the poisoning to embarrass Putin.
Gazprom-owned broadcaster NTV claimed there was a "British footprint" on the case, while Moscow downplayed the Novichok finding despite results from laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden.
Pevchikh, an employee of the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation, denies any involvement and blames the Russian authorities for Navalny's illness.
Recovery: Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia pose for a photo on a balcony of the Charite hospital in Berlin, where the Russian opposition leader is being treated
Speaking to BBC Russian, Pevchikh held the Russian authorities directly responsible for the poisoning of Navalny.
They tried to kill a person with a chemical agent. He almost died somewhere in the middle of Siberia and most likely would have died in Omsk had he not been released from there to go to Berlin, she said.
She accused the Russian Investigation Committee of trying to cover up those responsible for the poisoning.
"The main task still remains – to find the person who Alexei Navalny wanted to kill," she said.
"The only problem is that we all understand – that's not what they're trying to do, they're doing the opposite."
Pevchikh alleged she was secretly filmed on previous trips from London to Russia and that footage of her was released to Kremlin-friendly media after Navalny's poisoning.
Russian media quoted her father as saying that he "invented special needles that allow a substance to be injected into the body without going through the bloodstream."
She has not spoken to her father in 15 years after her parents divorced, she said.
Another source close to Navalny said, “This sinister campaign is about them preparing to admit that Novichok was actually used on Navalny.
"You will then blame his companions if this is done by the Russian authorities."
Pevchikh is portrayed in Moscow as close to the British authorities.
But Navalny's ally Vladimir Ashurkov said she was just an intern with a Westminster politician as a student about 10 years ago.
Navalny today called on Russia to return the clothes he was wearing when he fell ill on the flight in Siberia last month.
He also greeted his wife, Yulia, for helping him recover after he became ill and spent weeks in a medically induced coma.
Navalny, 44, was holding a coffee cup in one hand and wrapping his other arm around his wife's waist as she gazed over the Berlin skyline from the city's Charite hospital.
"Now I definitely know from experience: love heals and brings you back to life," he said. "Yulia, you saved me and wrote it down in neurobiological textbooks."
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny posed last week with his wife Yulia and their children in the German hospital, where he is being treated after being poisoned with Novichok
Navalny said in his first blog post since emerging from a coma that there was evidence of Novichok "in and on my body."
A German military laboratory found "clear evidence" of the substance earlier this month, a finding supported by laboratories in France and Sweden.
Navalny's helpers collected discarded items from his hotel room in the Siberian city of Tomsk and sent them to German experts who found Novichok on a water bottle.
His friends pointed to Moscow, largely because the nerve agent was the same agent who poisoned Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018, but the Kremlin denies any involvement.
The Russian traffic police said they questioned 200 people in a basic investigation, but the authorities have not yet initiated a comprehensive investigation.
The Kremlin downplayed the German discovery of Novichok and insisted that medical tests conducted by its own doctors did not find any poison in Navalny's body.
Navalny said he "expected nothing else" after Russian talk shows pointed out that Western intelligence or its own allies carried out the attack.
Navalny is being taken to an ambulance in Omsk (left) after falling ill on an airplane after a trip to an airport cafe (right) in August
He also asked the Russian authorities to return his clothes, which were removed before he was flown to Germany "completely naked".
"Given that Novichok was found on my body and poisoning from physical contact is very likely, my clothes are very important evidence," he wrote.
"I request that my clothes be carefully packed in a plastic bag and returned to me."
Outrage over the Navalny poisoning has led to calls for renewed sanctions against Russia, including the scrapping of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany.
The Kremlin has rejected these calls, stating that the pipeline is "absolutely in line with the interests of Russia and EU countries".
Doctors at Charite Hospital said last week that Navalny's condition "continues to improve", although possible long-term effects are not yet clear.
Over the weekend, a former Soviet scientist involved in the creation of Novichok apologized to Navalny and admitted that the substance was used against him.
"I deeply apologize to Navalny for participating in this criminal business and developing this substance that poisoned him," Vil Mirzayanov said in an interview with Russia's TV Rain on Saturday.
Navalny arrives at Berlin Tegel Airport after being flown out of Russia. Doctors at the German hospital say his condition has improved
Navalny's allies pointed at Russian President Vladimir Putin (pictured) after the opposition leader fell ill, but the Kremlin rejected the claims
Mirzayanov, who now lives in the USA, wrote the first articles on the development of Novichok in the early 1990s.
"Navalny just has to be patient, but in the end he should be healthy," said Mirzayanov, predicting that recovery would take "almost a year".
He suggested that Navalny most likely ingested the poison by mouth as he did not appear to have contaminated others.
So far, three scientists, now in their 70s, have made public statements after working on the top-secret Soviet project.
Navalny has long been the most prominent opposition figure in Russia and his allies say he will return to the country after he has recovered.
Putin's spokesman said last week that Navalny would be free to return to Russia, where he has been arrested on multiple occasions in what critics have labeled politically motivated raids.
Navalny was also sued for his anti-corruption investigations and was banned from running in the 2018 presidential election, which Putin won.
(tagsToTranslate) Dailymail (t) Nachrichten (t) Vladimir Putin (t) Berlin