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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 16, 2021 - Politics & Policy

House panels reviewing what intel agencies knew before deadly Capitol siege

A man calls on people to raid the building as Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images.

The House Intelligence, Oversight, Judiciary and Homeland Security committees have opened a review of the events and intelligence surrounding the deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol and other threats to the peaceful transfer of power, the panels said in a letter to federal intelligence agencies Saturday.

Why it matters: Law enforcement and intelligence agencies have faced sharp criticism for not being better prepared for the Capitol riot, despite reports that far-right Trump supporters discussed the idea of a violent protest on social media and chat platforms in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 event.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden readies massive shifts in policy for his first days in office.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
  6. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.
Dave Lawler, author of World
3 hours ago - World

Alexey Navalny detained after landing back in Moscow

Navalny and his wife shortly before he was detained. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow on Sunday, which came five months after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. He returned despite being warned that he would be arrested.

The latest: Navalny was stopped at a customs checkpoint and led away alone by officers. He appeared to hug his wife goodbye, and his spokesman reports that his lawyer was not allowed to accompany him.