Timing is everything, they say. Never more so was it crucial in the case of Alexei Navalny, currently coming out of a coma in the Charité hospital in Berlin, Germany, where he was transferred last month from Omsk in Russia after collapsing on a plane. Timing in this detective story is vital to understanding the motive behind the alleged poisoning.
For the West, it is a cut and dried case. Navalny, the Russian opposition activist, was poisoned by a nerve agent ‘Novichok’, probably in a cup of tea he drank at Omsk airport. The German military, after liaising with scientists at the UK’s Porton Down laboratory, came to that conclusion after carrying out tests. The implication is that the Russian state is responsible. In what was an unusually defiant tone, Angela Merkel said that Germany was awaiting answers from the Russian government regarding Navalny’s plight. Heiko Maas, the German Foreign Minister, went further at the weekend to say that he hoped Russia would come up with a response to the allegations of Novichok poisoning, or it could affect the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.
And herein lies the rub for the western version of events. For if indeed the Russian state was indeed guilty of poisoning Navalny, why on earth would it allow his transfer to Germany? And why would it carry out such a criminal act during the last phase of the Nord Stream pipeline project, in which so much has been invested? Politically and geopolitically, such an act would absolutely backfire. By eliminating an opposition member such as Alexei Navalny, it would no doubt produce a furious reaction from both foreign powers and domestic opposition, only encouraging anti-government activism.
So why therefore have we not seen protestors take to the streets in Russia in support of Navalny? Partly, it is because many Russians are sceptical of the West’s allegations. Given that Russia would have so much to lose from such a state-sponsored act, the motivation is not there. There are just as many holes in the western narrative as there were with the Skripal case back in 2018. As was the case back then, the Russian state was accused of the poisoning of ex double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, yet no evidence of Russian state involvement was provided. As yet we are to hear from the doctors treating Navalny in the Charité hospital in Berlin, just as we didn’t hear from those involved in the Skripal case. As in the Skripal case, the timing of the incident couldn’t be worse for the Kremlin. Then, it was just before the Russian world cup; in this case, it is just before the completion of Nord Stream 2 and when the Trump administration has spoken of meeting with Putin later this year. Why would the Russian state risk such an act at this time? Furthermore, if it was the nerve agent Novichok, a potent chemical up to eight times stronger than VX, why were other people around Navalny not affected? And why did he not exhibit any of the spasms associated with such nerve agents?
On the contrary, as the doctors treating him in Omsk reported, there was no indication that Navalny was suffering from poisoning by a nerve agent. They suggested various possibilities, including one of a pancreatic disorder which would fit the results of the investigations carried out, and the symptoms exhibited. Why it is that the German experts have come up with a completely different diagnosis is not clear, as they have not released any information. The lack of transparency and in particular, lack of communication with Moscow on the detail of analyses taken, only adds to scepticism about the western narrative.
Furthermore, it’s worth considering Navalny’s popularity and reach within Russia. According to a recent poll by Levada, the opposition activist would gain around 2% of the vote in a presidential election was to be held, compared to 56% who would re-elect Vladimir Putin. In a further survey which asked people to select a candidate which they trusted the most, Navalny only came 7th, with Vladimir Putin in 1st place. Such polls reflect the consistently high approval ratings Vladimir Putin has had for years now. Navalny on the other hand, has not gained the popularity he might have hoped given his years of journalism and anti-government activism – another reason why we haven’t seen demonstrations on the streets of Moscow since his hospitalisation.
Why would the Kremlin seek to annihilate someone who didn’t pose any real threat to established power?
If Navalny was indeed poisoned, then we have to look elsewhere for a motive. And here the old adage ‘Cui Bono?’ comes to mind.
In the last week the headlines have been dominated by the idea that the Navalny poisoning could end the Nord Stream pipeline. What is more interesting however is the extent to which the current US administration has been fixated with the idea of stopping Nord Stream 2, no matter what. And don’t take my word for it. Mike Pompeo himself said in July this year that the US would ‘do everything’ it could to prevent Nord Stream 2. He told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee “We need further tools. We’re prepared to use those tools should you provide them to us”.
Just what exactly these tools would consist of, other than support for sanctions, is unclear. But it’s no secret that the US has tried everything in the book to try to stop this pipeline which would guarantee Europe’s energy supply and greatly reduce US chances of competing with its own fracked gas. From sanctions, to pressurising companies and individuals, no stone has been left unturned. Now, by some twist of fate, an issue has arisen to put maximum pressure on the German government to abandon the project. The timing is extraordinary.
We don’t know yet what happened to Alexei Navalny; there just hasn’t been enough evidence released. Until it is, the western narrative cannot be taken at face value, there are simply too many things that don’t add up.