Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has said he believes Russia’s intelligence services poisoned him because they viewed him as a threat in the run-up to next year’s parliamentary elections.
The Russian opposition leader made the comments in his first interview since being discharged from a Berlin hospital.
“They [Russian authorities] understood that there were big, big problems threatening them ahead of elections for the State Duma,” Mr Navalny told the YouTube star Yury Dud.
“Putin is personally concerned about his power and money, there’s no doubt about it… Putin’s power, it’s a question of money, so of course it concerns him.”
Mr Navalny – Vladimir Putin‘s fiercest critic – was flown to Germany two days after falling ill on 20 August on a domestic flight in Russia.
Following what his aides call an “assassination attempt”, Mr Navalny spent 32 days in hospital and 24 of them in intensive care.
The politician said he thought the novichok nerve agent entered his system after he touched something.
However, he admitted to being unsure as to when this could have happened, saying he felt fine on the day he was poisoned.
He told Dud everything changed very suddenly – just 20 minutes into his flight from the Russian city Tomsk, adding that he was unable to work out what was happening to him and that he felt as if he was dying.
“At the 20th minute, I was no longer interested in watching [the TV series] Rick and Morty,” said Mr Navalny. “I feel how I’m dripping in cold sweat (sic).
“It’s a very strange feeling, several people have asked me what it’s like to die from novichok.”
He compared the experience to that of a dementor’s kiss.
Dementors are evil cloaked creatures from the Harry Potter franchise that suck the soul out of human beings, leaving them numb and lifeless.
Mr Navalny said: “It’s difficult to explain because it’s something that you don’t experience in everyday life.
“It may sound a bit strange, but the closest description [of being poisoned] would be a dementor… when a dementor kills you, it’s not painful, your life just goes away.
“It wasn’t painful at all, but the overwhelming feeling is ‘I’m going to die’.”
He added: “It’s quite hard [to explain] because you don’t experience it in everyday life, thank God.”
The opposition leader said he believed the poisoning took place on the Russian president’s orders.
The Kremlin rejects any suggestion that Vladimir Putin or any member of the Russian government was responsible for Mr Navalny’s poisoning.
Mr Navalny told Dud, who has almost eight million subscribers, that he thought doctors from the Russian city Omsk delayed his medical evacuation to Germany, in the hope that traces of novichok would disappear from his system.
He added that his recovery in Germany could take more than two months but said he was making progress with his physiotherapist and “getting better with each day”.
He said he was learning to juggle as part of the process.
“Today he [the physiotherapist] started to teach me how to juggle, so in some time you’ll see how I juggle, ride a unicycle, pull a rabbit out of a hat,” added Mr Navalny.
Germany has said it has “unequivocal proof” – backed by French and Swedish scientists – that the 44-year-old was poisoned by the military-grade nerve agent.
Despite pressure on the Kremlin for an explanation, it has denied any involvement in the incident and said it has “yet to see evidence” of a poison plot.
European countries have threatened sanctions against Russia over Mr Navalny’s suspected poisoning.
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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously told reporters that the allegation made against President Putin was “unacceptable, groundless and insulting”, but that Mr Navalny was free to return to Russia.
As Mr Putin’s most influential critic, this is not the first time he has been attacked.
In 2017, he was attacked by a pro-Kremlin supporter who threw a chemical substance in his eye, leaving him partially blind.
Last year he was rushed to hospital from his prison cell, again, for suspected poisoning.
Russia’s parliamentary elections are due to take place in September 2021, although some reports have suggested they could be brought forward to next spring.
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