Russia’s secret weapon isn’t so secret anymore
By: Dima Kiwan
It is fair to say that Russia is not the most diplomatic and cooperative country in the world. In fact, an alarming number of major world issues can be easily traced back to the Russian government, which is why it is not exactly surprising that Putin’s alleged use of chemical weapons against his political rivals is yet again circulating the international news cycle.
On August 20th, nearly two months ago, Russia’s leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny headed to the Tomsk Bogashevo airport after campaigning for opposition politicians in the Siberian local elections. At the airport, Navalny enjoyed a seemingly harmless cup of tea. Within the first 30 minutes of his flight to Moscow, he fell very ill and eventually entered a coma. He was airlifted to Berlin for treatment, however, the plane made an emergency landing in the Russian city of Omsk, where doctors claimed he was too sick to be moved at the time but two days later said that his life was not in danger.
In the following days and weeks, German, French and Swedish laboratories all confirmed traces of Novichok nerve agent in Navalny’s blood, while the doctors in Omsk denied detecting any poisonous substances. Since then, Navalny’s samples have also been sent to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons in the Hague, which further confirmed positive tests for the nerve agent.
While most European countries have accepted the reality that Navalny was indeed poisoned, Russia and its ally Belarus claim that there is no proof, despite the overwhelming evidence. Similarly, in response to comment on the matter, American President Donald Trump told sources that “we have not had any proof yet” a full two days after Germany announced its “unequivocal” evidence.
As of September 15th, Navalny announced on Instagram that he was off the ventilator and that his condition was greatly improving. His camp has officially accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of giving the orders to poison him with Novichok. While Kira Yamysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman, initially suggested that his airport tea was the source of the poison, his team now believes it was rather a water bottle from his hotel before leaving for the airport, as traces of the agent were later detected on the container.
While Navalny’s health has significantly improved and the details of this incident are gradually coming to light, the effect of the poisoning has certainly not subsided. More recently, in the last few days, the European Union has announced against 6 key members of Putin’s inner circle for this “assassination attempt” of the Kremlin’s most vocal critic. Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the Federal Security Service (successor agency to the KGB), and Sergei Kiriyenko , the deputy chief of staff, both face frozen assets and a travel ban. Additional senior Kremlin officials targeted include Andrei Yarin, Sergei Menyaylo and deputy ministers of defence Alexei Krivoruchko and Pavel Popov. The EU suspects all of these people were involved in orchestrating the attempted murder.
The organization did not stop at the individual level, even imposing sanctions on the Russian State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, where it believes the Novichok used was developed. The United Kingdom Foreign office mirrored the EU’s penalties, imposing it own sanctions on the same six individuals and agreeing with the majority of Europe that there is no alternative explanation for what happened to Navalny in August.
It should be noted here that the same chemical was used to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter two years ago in the United Kingdom. The Russian government is widely believed to have been behind that poisoning as well, further solidifying their likely responsibility in the case of Navalny.
In response to these disastrous sanctions, Moscow has continued denying any involvement in the matter, recycling common narratives from its repertoire that the victim poisoned himself, was not poisoned at all to begin with, or, perhaps the most creative, the whole ordeal was orchestrated by the CIA.
For many critics of varying backgrounds, these narratives are simultaneously laughable and insulting. Russia’s history with banned chemical weapons is long and complicated, probably deserving a whole set of articles on its own. For now, keep in mind that Putin’s administration has not limited its program to individual rivals such as Navalny or Skripal. Notably, his government played a critical role in enforcing and covering up President Assad’s use of illegal chemical weapons against the Syrian people during the ongoing civil war, attacks which killed and severely injured thousands of innocent civilians.
Recall that Russia and the Western world were not particularly fond of each other before this incident occurred. Moscow was already under sanctions from the Western world for its 2014 annexation of Crimea, and its alliance with the Belarussian government during a time of intense anger and unrest among the Belarussian population is obviously not praised by Western democracies. Therefore, the combined power of these measures has not only denounced Russia’s repeated use of illegal chemical weapons, but also further extended the rift between Russia and Europe, likely to the point of no return.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
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