Russia have launched a preliminary probe into the sudden illness of Alexei Navalny, a vocal Putin opponent who fell into a coma last week after a suspected poisoning.
It comes amid mounting international pressure from Western leaders – including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – to investigate the incident.
The 44-year old activist is currently being treated at the Berliner Charité hospital, in the German capital, after being flown from Siberia via air ambulance.
According to a statement released on Thursday by a Siberian branch of Russia’s Interior Ministry, investigators in the region have been working on “establishing all the circumstances of the incident,” conducting forensic studies and collecting items “that may have probative value.”
The Russian doctors who had first visited Navalny on August 20 in the Siberian town of Omsk denied finding any trace of poison in his body.
A further analysis conducted at Berlin’s Charité hospital spotted “cholinesterase inhibitors” in his body, but the doctors haven’t yet managed to identify which specific substance it is.
Found in some drugs, pesticides and chemical nerve agents, cholinesterase inhibitors act by blocking the breakdown of a key chemical in the body – acetylcholine – which transmits signals between nerve cells.
Navalny’s allies insist he was deliberately poisoned and accuse the Kremlin of it, allegations that the Russian officials deemed as “empty noise.”
His collaborators submitted a request to Russia’s Investigative Committee demanding authorities to launch a criminal probe on charges of an attempt on the life of a public figure, but officials appeared so far reluctant to start an actual investigation.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday he saw no grounds for a criminal case until the cause of the activist’s condition was fully established.
On Thursday he said that the probe into Navalny’s illness was launched “in the first days” after he fell ill, but added that the procedure was routine police work “always carried out in cases like this.”