The nerve agent used to poison Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was detected on an empty water bottle from his hotel room in the Siberian city of Tomsk, suggesting he was poisoned there and not at the airport as previously thought, his team has said.
Mr Navalny fell violently ill on a domestic flight in Russia last month and was subsequently airlifted to Berlin for treatment.
Germany says he was poisoned by a Novichok nerve agent, while Russia says it has seen no evidence he was poisoned.
A video posted on Mr Navalny’s Instagram account showed members of his team searching the room he had just left in the Xander Hotel in Tomsk on 20 August, an hour after they learned he had fallen sick in suspicious circumstances.
“It was decided to gather up everything that could even hypothetically be useful and hand it to the doctors in Germany. The fact that the case would not be investigated in Russia was quite obvious,” the post said.
It showed his team bagging several empty bottles of ‘Holy Spring’ mineral water, among other items, while wearing protective gloves.
“Two weeks later, a German laboratory found traces of Novichok precisely on the bottle of water from the Tomsk hotel room,” the post said.
“And then more laboratories that took analyses from Alexei confirmed that that was what poisoned Navalny. Now we understand: it was done before he left his hotel room to go to the airport.”
Russia has carried out pre-investigation checks, but said it needs to see more medical analysis before it can open a formal criminal investigation into the case.
On Wednesday, Britain said it was almost certain that Russian intelligence services carried out the attack on Mr Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s staunchest critics, and said Russia has a case to answer as the use of a chemical weapon was unacceptable.
Germany asks for help
Meanwhile, Germany has asked for the assistance of the global chemical agency in investigating Mr Navalny’s alleged poisoning with a banned toxic chemical, the Hague-based organisation said in a statement on Thursday.
“The Technical Secretariat of the OPCW has received from the Federal Republic of Germany a request for technical assistance,” it said.
Experts from the agency “collected biomedical samples from Mr Navalny for analysis by OPCW designated laboratories”.
Results from those tests will be shared with Germany, which had until now requested that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) keep its role in the case confidential.
Novichok was used in the 2018 poisoning in the English city of Salisbury of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
OPCW tests confirmed use of the highly toxic substance.
Members of the OPCW agreed in November 2019 to expand the agency’s list of banned “Schedule 1” chemicals for the first time to include the Novichok family of nerve agents.
That ban went into effect on 7 June, 2020.
The OPCW was established in 1997 as a technical body to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention. It has played an active role in monitoring the use of banned chemical weapons in the Syrian war, which has made its work highly political.