Russian Prosecutors Say No Need for Criminal Investigation in Navalny Affair

August 27, 2020 Updated: August 27, 2020

MOSCOW—Russian prosecutors said on Thursday they saw no need for a criminal investigation into the sudden illness of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who his supporters suspect was poisoned, and they had found no sign that any crime had been committed.

The Interior Ministry said it had started a preliminary investigation into the case, but this was routine.

Navalny, 44, was airlifted to Germany on Saturday after collapsing during a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow. He is now in a medically-induced coma in a Berlin hospital.

An ambulance transporting Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny drives out of a hospital in Omsk
Medical specialists carry Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on a stretcher into an ambulance on their way to an airport to Germany in Omsk, Russia, on Aug. 22, 2020. (Alexey Malgavko/Reuters)

The hospital said its initial medical examination pointed to poisoning, though Russian doctors who had treated Navalny in a Siberian hospital have contradicted that diagnosis.

On Thursday, the Russian Prosecutor General’s office said there was no indication a crime had been committed against him.

It saw no basis to open a criminal investigation, the office said in a statement.

German authorities have agreed to cooperate with Russia on the case, the Prosecutor General’s office said, asking Germany to share information about his treatment and promising to give some back in exchange.

The Siberian branch of the Interior Ministry’s transportation unit said it was carrying out a preliminary investigation after Navalny’s flight made an emergency landing in the city of Omsk.

It had inspected the hotel room where Navalny had been staying in Tomsk and the routes he had taken in the city, as well as analyzing video surveillance footage from the area, it said. The ministry did not find any drugs or other potent substances.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated the government’s position that there was no need for a formal investigation but that preliminary checks were always carried out in such situations

Relations with West

Navalny’s supporters believe he was poisoned by his foes. He has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for more than a decade, exposing what he says is high-level graft and mobilizing crowds of young protesters.

He has been repeatedly detained for organizing public meetings and rallies and sued over his investigations into corruption. He was barred from running in a presidential election in 2018.

The Kremlin said this week it wanted the circumstances surrounding Navalny’s condition to come to light and that it hoped the incident would not hurt its relations with the West.

Germany, France, and other countries have called on Russia to investigate. European Union ministers are set to discuss Navalny’s condition this week.

Russia is already under wide Western sanctions after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine six years ago, and another stand-off with European nations or the United States may hurt its economics further.

by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Anton Zverev