Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov answers questions on the open letter from Swiss neurologist Vitaly Kozak
Question: At the end of January, Russian neurologist Vitaly Kozak, who works in Switzerland, published an open letter where he asks a number of difficult questions about an article in in The Lancet journal about Alexey Navalny’s alleged poisoning with a chemical warfare agent. Have you read it? Do you have any comment on this?
Sergey Lavrov: I appreciated Doctor Kozak’s very detailed open letter addressed to me on January 22, 2021, in which he expressed his expert opinion on the available publications on Alexey Navalny’s treatment at the Charite clinic in Berlin.
As I am not an expert in chemistry, biology or medicine, I cannot give you a professional comment on the analysis he has carried out, but having carefully read his considerations, which point to contradictions that have emerged, I agree that any questions and reasonable doubts regarding this case necessarily require clarification.
In a situation where Western countries are trying to make the topic of Navalny almost the main one in the dialogue with our country, I would like to reciprocally share my assessments of the moves made by this story’s actors in the sphere of politics and propaganda, which are in the focus of our official interests.
Their first point was that the Russian special services had tried to poison Navalny who only survived because the unsuspecting pilot of the scheduled flight he took made an emergency landing where an ambulance was already waiting, and the doctors in Omsk made every effort to save him (this, however, did not prevent those same doctors from being accused of “complicity in poisoning” by concealing the real results of his tests).
At the same time, the doctors at the Charite clinic, where the patient was immediately taken at his wife’s insistence, did not find any chemical warfare agents either – just like in Omsk – (so, according to the above logic, the Charite doctors could also be suspected of complicity). Those combat agents were not found until later at the Bundeswehr Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, as “announced” by the German government. And that gave rise to peremptory accusations against the Russian state along with demands that it admit its “guilt” and investigate the “crime.”
Question: Vitaly Kozak also cites a peculiar attitude to the delicate principle of medical ethics, patient confidentiality. Were your foreign colleagues as outspoken with the Russian side when it came to legal assistance as with The Lancet?
Sergey Lavrov: The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office immediately sent a request to the German Federal Office of Justice for complete information about the results of the tests made by Bundeswehr doctors and for the transfer of all relevant evidence. Although our requests were fully in keeping with a number of conventions on legal assistance, including the Chemical Weapons Convention, we have not received any factual information. Using various pretexts, the German side refused to provide copies of medical documents, medical history, or the results of forensic examinations, toxicological and other laboratory tests. While refusing to provide any answer in good faith to the official requests from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office dated August 27 and September 14, 24 and 28, 2020, the German authorities initially said that all the relevant information was classified because, if made public, it would allow Russia to understand the scope of Bundeswehr’s knowledge in the field of chemical weapons. Later they changed their reasoning, focusing on Navalny’s refusal to allow the provision of any information, including his personal data, to Russia.
Question: What about the formula of the substance with which Navalny was allegedly poisoned?
Sergey Lavrov: According to the German authorities, France and Sweden have allegedly confirmed the Bundeswehr’s conclusions. The OPCW Technical Secretariat openly played along, acting in a non-transparent way to provide assistance to Germany and subsequently confirming the conclusions made in Berlin, Paris and Stockholm without revealing the formula of the substance allegedly found in the patient’s biological materials, saying that we must contact Germany at whose request the analysis was made. Germany, as well as France and Sweden, refused to provide any information.
That is to say, they expect us to take their word at face value and at the same time they have demanded in the unacceptable form of an ultimatum that the Russian law enforcement authorities initiate criminal proceedings on the “proven fact” of Navalny’s poisoning with a chemical warfare agent. Our logical argument that these Western countries are concealing a crucial piece of evidence of an alleged crime, which we need in accordance with the Russian law to open a criminal case, is being disregarded without any reasonable explanation. In short, we have come full circle.
A detailed account of this ignominious story, including information about the numerous efforts we have made to establish the truth, is available on the Foreign Ministry’s official website.
Question: What you think about the Gelendzhik Palace video?
Sergey Lavrov: Leaving aside the question of the credibility of the assertions made in that film and the computer graphics used in it, as well as the question of who is behind this video, and who paid for it (many facts have already been provided on this account, even though officials and most of the media in the West shyly ignore them), I will note one specific aspect. In this film, Mr Navalny visits the building of the former Soviet intelligence station in Dresden and, in conjunction with some of his German colleagues, shows viewers materials from a folder, which he says is “Putin's personal file.” Clearly, it’s impossible to get into that building, let alone to gain access to the archives, without the assistance of the official German authorities, most likely, the special services. This alone speaks volumes about the underpinnings of this story and the role that the West has played and continues to play in promoting it in the international media. However, we have a question to which we would like an answer: if Germany is so concerned about Mr Navalny’s right to dispose of his personal data, then how could the file from the German archives which, according to the people behind the film, concerns Vladimir Putin, have been made public without his consent? We asked the German Foreign Ministry for clarification, and it informed us several days later that Navalny's access to the above archives had been approved by the corresponding German authorities, and there was “nothing secret” in the materials that were made available to him. It speaks for itself.
Question: Are there plans to redirect Vitaly Kozak's open letter to the specialised international organisations that deal with the “Novichok case?”
Sergey Lavrov: Since the questions that Mr Kozak raised in his open letter from a purely scientific standpoint, as a specialist in medicine and biology, directly touch upon the issues that the West carefully avoids in its foreign policy dialogue with us, we plan, if he doesn’t mind, to draw the attention of the top officials from the OPCW Technical Secretariat, as well as Germany, France and Sweden, to his analysis, and ask them to comment.
I also consider it important to support the doctor's idea that other independent specialists in biomedicine also comment on the above facts. I hope they will hear Mr Kozak and, as honest professionals, provide their comments on the questions he has formulated.