The world is convinced that a political rival of the Russian president was deliberately poisoned by the state, which Moscow vehemently denies.
Could the plethora of accusations be premature when there are other actors eager to see the new Cold War between Russia and the West turn into a big freeze?
There is no doubt that Alexei Navalny was targeted; his anguished moans during a flight from Siberia to Moscow were chilling. The plane was redirected to the city of Omsk where the stricken man was placed in an induced coma.
Doctors, who say they found no trace of poison in his system, initially refused to allow their patient to be flown to Berlin for treatment in accordance with his family’s wishes on the grounds he was too ill to travel but they later relented. His condition is said to be “stable and improving”.
Fingers within Europe and Nato are pointing in one direction. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is said to be furious. She wants answers. German laboratories are unequivocal.
Navalny was poisoned by an advanced Soviet Union nerve agent known as Novichok. Brilliant investigating when the nerve agent was manufactured to be undetectable. Russia is demanding proof.
Demise of euro Nord Stream
At stake could be the demise of the multi-billion euro Nord Stream pipeline project allowing the import of Russian gas that has been condemned by President Donald Trump and certain EU member states.
Here it is worth mentioning that while Novichok is closely associated with Russia, this weapon has also been produced by various NATO countries.
It is easy to jump to conclusions but when Novichok is considered one of the most toxic chemical compounds in existence capable of killing a subject between 30 seconds and two minutes, it seems that Navalny was extremely lucky to have survived for hours before he received medical help.
There are antidotes, among them atropine, but given that the hospital in Omsk did not detect any poison one can assume that antidotes were not administered.
Secondly just how deadly is this substance when most of those allegedly poisoned survive and in the case of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who collapsed while out and about in the English town of Salisbury, thrive?
Since, they have disappeared or been disappeared so the truth remains a mystery. I must admit that I did not buy the British government’s line. There were too many anomalies. The use of a Soviet era nerve agent was one. That might as well have been a calling card announcing Putin was here.
Soviet nerve agent
The official version was the pair came into contact with the agent when Sergei Skripal held the doorknob while leaving their home yet they somehow managed to have lunch and stroll around before ill effects set in.
They were said to have survived purely by chance because medical staff had the advantage of being assisted by scientists from Porton Down, a nearby secretive chemical weapons research facility.
Then there was the question of motive. The spy was held in a Russian prison for four years before he was swapped. If the state wanted him dead, the deed could have been done then with no questions asked.
The same goes for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. Moscow could have blocked or greatly delayed Navalny’s transportation out of the country if it were felt there was something to hide or, whoever was the would-be assassin could have been allowed to finish the job.
Seriously, is Novichok the only toxic substance available in the arsenal of the FSB or a rogue entity? There are others such as the globally available VX and Sarin that from Moscow’s perspective are far less incriminating.
Moreover, if the objective was murder it was a failure. Novichok failed to end the lives of the Skripals and that of Alexei Navalny.
Once again the truth is elusive. Merkel could be right in her wish to punish Putin and it may be that Russia deserves to be sanctioned by the EU. However in my view something doesn’t smell right.
Hostility towards Russia in Western democracies is increasing. Russia is blamed for once again interfering in America’s upcoming ballot and for allegedly placing a bounty on the heads of US troops in Afghanistan.
Trump’s half-hearted attempts to bring Moscow back to the international fold and to solidify an improved US-Russian relationship have met with heavy opposition from lawmakers.
Britain’s attitude towards Moscow is positively antagonistic, the enmity is stark and unapologetic.
Russia can do no right. Even its success at producing and distributing the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine is being undermined by the Western media’s talking heads.
Propaganda runs both ways and, in this age, when truth is barely distinguishable from lies, we would all be wise to keep an open mind.
In the meantime, we can but hope for Navalny’s full recovery and look forward to the perpetrators whoever they are being made to answer for their crimes.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.