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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

Dave Lawler, author of World
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."

Updated 6 hours ago - World

Death toll mounts as fighting between Israel and Hamas intensifies

Palestinian Muslims exchange wishes for Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, near a razed building in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, on May 13. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

At least 109 Palestinians and seven people in Israel have been killed since recent fighting between Israel's military and Hamas began Monday.

The big picture: Israel began massing troops on its border with Gaza on Thursday, launching attacks from the air and ground as Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel.

By the numbers: Where the earmarks are wanted

Expand chart
Data: House Committee on Appropriations; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The Dallas-Fort Worth area is being targeted for the largest collective earmark request in the country, according to a detailed breakdown of overall requests released by the House Appropriations Committee.

Why it matters: House appropriators are trying to balance bipartisan momentum for infrastructure investment with "pork-barrel" spending's checkered political history. The data dump is an effort to provide transparency for what are now termed "community project funding" requests.