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I found the video they’re lying about Alexei Navalny “Putin’s Enemy” on YouTube. It discusses four questions about the Russian lawyer and dissident Alexei Navalny, who recently died in Russian imprisonment.

The video appears to make a variety of disputable assertions, based on a book by Jacques Baud, about the relation between Alexei Navalny and the Russian government. I want to focus only on the topic of Novichok poisoning.

The video claims that:

  1. Novichok was never adopted by USSR/Russia and that production was ceased in 1987.
  2. Samples of Novichok have been found in several member states of NATO, including Germany, US, Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, Sweden.

While it is not explicitly stated in the video, the narrative appears to be that a Novichok poisoning of Navalny, assuming that such a poisoning took place, is more likely to have been caused by one of the countries mentioned in point 2 than by Russia/USSR.

The video furthermore claims that:

  1. Doctors treating victims of Novichok poisoning need to wear full protective gear.
  2. Doctors treating Navalny did not wear protective gear in the Charité in Berlin. Furthermore, nobody on the flight from Russia to Berlin was wearing protective gear, nor was anyone in the ambulance transporting Navalny from the airport to the Charité.

Finally, the video claims that:

  1. The Charité Lancet article shows that Navalny's blood values may have been caused by other drugs and alcohol consumption instead of Novichok poisoning.
  2. The evidence in favor of the hypothesis that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok is weak since it is based only on biomedical samples that, except for the Lancet report, remain classified.

How well do the above claims stack up and how much credibility should we subsequently give to the hypothesis that Alexey Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok-type nerve agent by the Federal Security Service in 2020?

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    BTW, is "RedacTed" a reincarnation of "Russia Today"? They even put the T slanted in their self-ad video, which seems to suggest that. Or is the T for Tucker Carlson? He's also mentioned in the opening sentences (of that self-ad). I see the chan is hosted by Clayton Morris formerly on Fox News too, so I guess more like the former. Feb 18 at 8:53
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    From the other bestsellers of Baud: Asad never bombed the civilian population in Syria. It's all a Western media manipulation. Feb 18 at 9:25
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    Also claims that there's virtually no evidence Asad's forces tortured anyone, but if they did torture somebody, those must be people that the US rendered there. Feb 18 at 9:31
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    @Fizz It seems Baud has a treasure trove of ... uhh ... "interesting" views on world events. Feb 18 at 13:17
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    Potential edit: Unless there is a purpose to using what I assume are two different transliterations for both the person (Navalny/Nawalny) and the drug (Novitschok/Novichok), I'll consolidate them. But I don't want to do it without asking, in case there is some intentional reasoning that I'm missing.
    – Doug Deden
    Feb 19 at 22:15

2 Answers 2

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The poisoning incident is famous because the investigative journalism group Bellingcat identified the FSB (Russian spy service) members who followed Navalny and went into his Tomsk hotel room to apply the Novichok … to his underpants. Then the FSB's toxin group was found, and the lead scientist (Konstantin Kudryavtsev) confessed.

What really made the news (besides the underpants), was that Nalvalny himself called that scientist pretending to be an angry superior demanding to know what went wrong. Kudryavtsev explained details of how and where the poison was given, how he cleaned up the hotel room … over the phone for 45 minutes. A 2020 CNN article Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny dupes spy into revealing how he was poisoned explains it.

For more references there's the bottom of a Wikipedia page devoted to the incident: Poisoning of Alexei Navalny. To sum it up: his condition was an international incident, leading experts on chemical weapons were called in, who in mind-numbing detail concluded it was Russian Novichok nerve agent.

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    It's basically the story Navalny himself told us. This doesn't asnwer the question. The question is — how much credibility should we give to his story. Are there any contradictions? What if Navalny just made it up? Repeating his own words does not prove neither disprove anything.
    – enkryptor
    Feb 20 at 10:25
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    @enkryptor Both the linked article and the one it refers to name their sources (mostly Bellingcat) - it's not based on just Navalny's own words.
    – zovits
    Feb 20 at 13:36
  • But the whole video was a Navalny + Christo Grozev collab, wasn't it? So Bellingcat wasn't an independed investigator, it was one of the authors.
    – enkryptor
    Feb 20 at 18:45
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TLDR (see conclusion below): Independent pieces of evidence from the Charité and laboratories in Sweden, Germany and France make the hypothesis that Alexei Navalny was poisoned with Novichok in 2020 likely beyond reasonable doubt. The main suspect is the Federal Security Service due to the large amounts of weaponised Novichok that Russia is expected to have based on a 2014 report of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as well as based on a Bellingcat report identifying the perpetrators as members of the Federal Security Service.


Claim 1. seems to be true at least according to official statements of Russian/USSR governments, however leaks by Vil Mirzayanov (cf. e.g. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0045653519300542) suggest that Russia has been experimenting with and/or producing chemical weapons also after 1987.

Most importantly, according to a 2014 report by the U.S.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative, Russia is believed to have a stock of thousands of tons of weaponised Novichok varieties and their precursors.

Claim 2. may be true, cf. Reuters, however, this seems to concern only isolated samples of Novichok.

Overall, the hypothesis that, conditional on Novichok poisoning having taken place, Russia is not to blame, seems to be very implausible: Russia has access to a large arsenal of weaponised Novichok while other countries have at most isolated samples. Furthermore, Navalny was poisoned in Russia and not any of the other countries.

Claim 3. appears to be true.

Claim 4. appears wrong: Photos and press releases depicting the transport of Navalny to the hospital show that he was in a patient isolation unit, intended for "for quick and easy transport of highly infectious and vulnerable patients" (quote from https://epiguard.com/). Furthermore, Navalny has said that his clothes were taken from him before flying to Germany, and that Russian authorities have refused to hand them over to him.

In summary, appropriate measures of caution appear to have been taken to avoid spreading of Novichok nerve agents to persons close to Navalny during treatment.

Claim 5. is unclear to me: The Lancet article claims that Navalny was poisoned with a cholinesterase inhibitor, of which Novichok nerve agents are a special type.

Claim 6. Is partially true. While analysis is based on blood samples and the information is classified, biomedical samples were analysed by the Bundeswehr and in two independent laboratories in Sweden and France chosen by the OPCW (see report).


Overall, while the fact that reports remain classified weakens their evidentiary strength, the combination of evidence that

  1. cholinesterase inhibitor poisoning was diagnosed by the Charité;
  2. biomedical samples analysed by the Bundeswehr indicated poisoning with Novichok-type nerve agents (cf.);
  3. biomedical samples analysed by two independent laboratories in Sweden and France found traces of Novichok-type nerve agents;
  4. Navalny spontaneously collapsed in a flight from Tomsk without any likely natural cause;

seems to make the hypothesis that Navalny was not poisoned with a Novichok-type nerve agent overwhelmingly unlikely.

Furthermore, conditional on such a poisoning having taken place, the main suspect for responsibility is the Russian Federal Security Service due to the high availability of Novichok-type nerve agents in Russia; this is further underlined by an investigation of Bellingcat, Der Spiegel, CNN and The Insider.

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    The Salisbury and related Amesbury poisonings in 2018 may cast doubt on Claim 1.
    – Henry
    Feb 19 at 9:31
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    Did you mean to say that claim 1 appears to be true or that it appears to be false? The claim is listed in the question as Russia/USSR not having Novitschok, but the answer seems to provide evidence that it does (i.e. claim is false.) Unless I'm misunderstanding the claim.
    – reirab
    Feb 19 at 16:35
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    The real issue with point 1 is that it is irrelevant. The claim might be that the Russian Army never adopted for military use. So what? They experimented with it for a long time, certainly retained stocks. So their spies could easily get enough to use. The communist Bulgarian's never "adopted" ricin but managed to kill an exiled dissident in London with it in 1979. And russian dissidents in the UK were attacked by novichok in the UK in 2018.
    – matt_black
    Feb 21 at 13:45

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