The Kremlin’s investigators want to speak to Alexei Navalny ally Maria Pevchikh (pictured) over the dissident’s poisoning
The Kremlin’s investigators want to speak to a woman living in Britain over the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, it has emerged.
Maria Pevchikh, 33, was with Navalny on a trip to Siberia when he was taken ill on a plane last month and airlifted to Berlin in a coma after what Germany has called an assassination attempt.
With Moscow under pressure to explain what happened, the UK-based Pevchikh could now face questions from investigators she says are ‘doing the opposite’ of trying to solve the case.
While suspicion has fallen on Vladimir Putin after three laboratories found evidence of Novichok, pro-Kremlin media has claimed that Western intelligence or Navalny’s own allies could have staged the poisoning to embarrass Putin.
The Gazprom-owned channel NTV claimed there was a ‘British footprint’ in the case while Moscow has played down the Novichok finding despite results from laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden.
Pevchikh, an employee of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, denies any involvement and blames Russian authorities for Navalny’s illness.
Recovery: Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia pose for a picture on a balcony of the Charite hospital in Berlin where the Russian opposition leader is being treated
Speaking to BBC Russian, Pevchikh directly blamed Russian authorities for Navalny’s poisoning.
‘They tried to kill a person with a chemical warfare agent. Somewhere in the middle of Siberia, he almost died, and most likely would have died in Omsk if he had not been released from there’ to go to Berlin, she said.
She accused the Russian Investigative Committee of seeking to cover up those responsible for the poisoning.
‘The primary task still remains – to find the person who wanted to kill Alexei Navalny.,’ she said.
‘The only problem is that we all understand – this is not what they are trying to do, they are doing the opposite.’
Pevchikh claimed she had been secretly filmed on previous trips from London to Russia, and that footage of her was released to pro-Kremlin media after after Navalny’s poisoning.
Russian media has quoted her father claiming he invented ‘special needles that allow a substance to be injected into the body without going through the bloodstream’.
She has not spoken to her father for 15 years after her parents’ divorce, she said.
Another source close to Navalny said: ‘This sinister campaign is all about them getting ready for being forced to admit Novichok was indeed used on Navalny.
‘They will then blame his companions when this was done by the Russian authorities.’
Pevchikh is portrayed in Moscow as being close to the British authorities.
But Navalny ally Vladimir Ashurkov said she had merely been an intern to a Westminster politician as a student about 10 years ago.
Navalny today demanded that Russia return the clothes he was wearing when he fell ill on the flight in Siberia last month.
He also hailed his wife Yulia for helping to nurse him back to health after he was taken ill and spent weeks in a medically-induced coma.
Navalny, 44, held a coffee mug in one hand and wrapped his other arm around his wife’s waist as she looked over the skyline of Berlin from the city’s Charite hospital.
‘Now I definitely know from experience: love heals and brings you back to life,’ he said. ‘Yulia, you have saved me, and let it go down in neurobiology textbooks.’
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny poses with his wife Yulia and their children last week at the German hospital where he is being treated after being poisoned with Novichok
Navalny said in his first blog post since emerging from a coma that there was evidence of Novichok ‘in and on my body’.
A German military lab found ‘unequivocal evidence’ of the substance earlier this month, a finding supported by laboratories in France and Sweden.
Navalny’s aides gathered discarded objects from his hotel room in the Siberian city of Tomsk and sent them to German experts who found Novichok on a water bottle.
His friends have pointed the finger at Moscow, especially because the nerve agent was the same one used to poison Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018, but the Kremlin denies any involvement.
Russia’s transport police says it has questioned 200 people in a basic probe, but authorities have yet to open a full investigation.
The Kremlin has played down Germany’s finding of Novichok, insisting that medical tests carried out by its own doctors found no poison in Navalny’s body..
Navalny said he ‘did not expect anything else’ after Russian talk shows suggested that Western intelligence or his own allies had carried out the attack.
Navalny being taken to an ambulance in Omsk (left) after falling ill on a plane following a trip to an airport cafe (right) in August
He also demanded that Russian authorities return his clothes, which were removed before he was flown to Germany ‘totally naked’.
‘Taking into account that Novichok was found on my body, and poisoning through physical contact is highly likely, my clothes are a very important piece of evidence,’ he wrote.
‘I demand my clothes be carefully packed in a plastic bag and returned to me.’
Outrage at Navalny’s poisoning has led to calls for renewed sanctions against Russia, including scrapping the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany.
The Kremlin has rejected those calls, saying that the pipeline is ‘absolutely in line with the interests of both Russia and EU countries’.
Doctors at the Charite hospital said last week that Navalny’s condition ‘continues to improve’, although possible long-term effects are not yet clear.
At the weekend, a former Soviet scientist who was involved in creating Novichok apologised to Navalny and acknowledged that the substance was used against him.
‘I offer my profound apologies to Navalny for the fact that I took part in this criminal business, developing this substance that he was poisoned with,’ said Vil Mirzayanov in an interview with Russia’s TV Rain on Saturday.
Navalny arrives at Berlin’s Tegel Airport after he was airlifted from Russia. Doctors at the German hospital say his condition has been improving
Navalny’s allies have pointed the finger at Russian president Vladimir Putin (pictured) after the opposition leader fell ill, but the Kremlin has dismissed the claims
Mirzayanov, who now lives in the United States, wrote the first articles on Novichok’s development in the early 1990s.
‘Navalny will just have to be patient but in the end, he should be healthy,’ Mirzayanov said, predicting recovery would take ‘almost a year.’
He suggested that Navalny most likely took in the poison by mouth, since he appears not to have contaminated others.
So far three scientists, now in their 70s, have made public statements after working on the top-secret Soviet project.
Navalny has long been the most prominent opposition figure in Russia and his allies say he will return to the country once he has recovered.
Putin’s spokesman said last week that Navalny would be free to return to Russia, where he has been arrested multiple times in what critics say were politically motivated crackdowns.
Navalny has also been sued over his anti-corruption investigations and was barred from running in the 2018 presidential election, which Putin won.