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Kremlin critic Navalny says 'Putin was behind' poisoning

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to the media prior to a court session in Moscow, Russia on Aug. 22, 2019.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to the media prior to a court session in Moscow, Russia on Aug. 22, 2019.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has accused President Vladimir Putin of being behind the Novichok attack that nearly took his life.

"I claim that Putin was behind the crime, and I have no other version of what happened," Navalny, who is recovering in Berlin, Germany, told the Der Spiegel newspaper in an interview published on Thursday.

"My job now is to remain the guy who isn't scared. And I'm not scared," he added.

The prominent Kremlin critic fell ill during an August 20 flight. His team immediately alleged he had been poisoned but Russian doctors in the Siberian city of Omsk rejected that claim.

Doctors in Germany, where Navalny was flown to on August 22, as well as laboratories in France and Sweden, have however found traces of the Novichok nerve agent.

The Kremlin has steadfastly denied any involvement and cast doubts over the German investigation.

The poisoning took place less than a month before local and regional elections in Russia for which Navalny had been campaigning. His foundation had been calling on voters to back candidates best placed to defeat the ruling United Russia party.

Navalny was successfully taken out of a coma on September 7 and has since been released from the hospital. He has indicated that he will return to Russia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited Navalny during his hospital stay, called the poisoning an attempted murder aimed at silencing the Kremlin critic and has demanded Russia cooperate with the investigation.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is meanwhile providing the German-led probe with technical assistance.

Novichok is a Soviet-era military-grade chemical agent banned under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

It was used in a 2018 attack against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK. Both survived but another woman died after being exposed to the chemical agent near the scene of the attack.