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Photo: Alexei Druzhinin\TASS via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday denied that Russian intelligence officers were involved in the near-deadly Novichok poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, suggesting with a laugh that they "would have probably finished the job," the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: A bombshell investigation led by open-source research group Bellingcat found that agents of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) with expertise in chemical weapons followed Navalny on more than 30 trips to and from Moscow starting in 2017 before he was poisoned in August.

  • An analysis of "voluminous telecom and travel data" by Bellingcat suggests the poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok “was mandated at the highest echelons of the Kremlin."
  • Bellingcat's investigation also alleged that Russia is operating a clandestine chemical weapons program operating under the cover of an FSB investigative unit.

What he's saying: Speaking at an annual news conference, Putin insisted that American intelligence was the reason why the poisoning has continued to receive so much attention, and seemed to acknowledge that Navalny was being surveilled, per theTimes.

  • "This patient in the Berlin clinic has the support of American intelligence agencies," Putin said without naming Navalny, an anti-corruption activist and one of Russia's prominent Putin critics.
  • "The intelligence agencies of course need to keep an eye on him. But that does not mean that he needs to be poisoned — who needs him? If they had really wanted to, they would have probably finished the job," he continued.
  • Putin also suggested that Western intelligence agencies were using the poisoning to increase Navalny's popularity.

Flashback: Specialist labs in France and Sweden confirmed in September that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, a calling card of the Russian security services. Navalny, who fell into a coma but ultimately recovered in a German hospital, accused Putin in October of orchestrating the poisoning.

  • The Kremlin denied this, with Putin even suggesting that Navalny poisoned himself for attention.
  • Of note: Novichok is the same agent used in the attempted assassination in 2018 of Sergei Skripal, a Russian former double agent who had relocated to the U.K.

Go deeper

Jan 26, 2021 - World

Biden holds first phone call with Putin, raises Navalny arrest

Putin takes a call in 2017. Photo: Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty

President Biden on Tuesday held his first call since taking office with Vladimir Putin, pressing the Russian president on the arrest of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and the Russia-linked hack on U.S. government agencies.

The state of play: Biden also raised arms control, bounties allegedly placed on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine, according to a White House readout. The statement said Biden and Putin agreed maintain "consistent communication," and that Biden stressed the U.S. would "act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies."

Big Tech lobbies hard against looming antitrust bill

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Big Tech CEOs, including Apple's Tim Cook and Google's Sundar Pichai, have been jawboning lawmakers as a Senate committee takes up a key antitrust bill Thursday.

Why it matters: The bill prompting this lobbying frenzy could upend how tech's giants do business, and tech's critics see this as a "now or never" moment for Congress to check the industry's power.

Biden stock market gets Trumped

Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

U.S. stocks markets performed worse during the first year of Joe Biden's presidency than during the first year of Donald Trump's presidency.

By the numbers: The S&P 500 rose 19.3% between the market close before Biden's inauguration and yesterday's market close, compared to a 24.1% increase for Trump during the similar period.