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Editorial: Putin must clarify suspected poisoning of anti-government leader

  • September 22, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 12:36 p.m.
  • English Press

Another incident has occurred in which an opponent of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin was taken down for an inexplicable reason. It is important for the international community to increase pressure on Russia to disclose the truth.


Alexei Navalny, leader of the anti-Putin administration movement, became unconscious and fell into a critical condition on a plane while taking a domestic flight.


At the request of his family, who felt that he was threatened, Navalny was transferred from a hospital in West Siberia to Berlin and has been receiving treatment.


The German government concluded, based on an examination by a military research institute, that it was an attempt to kill Navalny by poisoning him using a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group developed by the former Soviet Union.


Novichok is said to be more lethal than sarin, and is subject to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The use of the chemical agent is unacceptable under any circumstances. It is natural that foreign ministers of the Group of Seven advanced nations strongly condemned the use of the poison in a joint statement.


Navalny has been detained and imprisoned many times for looking into the ruling party’s irregularities on a video posting site. He called for a campaign to reduce the number of ruling camp seats ahead of the unified local elections on Sept. 13.


The Russian government has insisted there was no evidence that the poison had been used, but it has not conducted a full-fledged investigation nor presented any materials for counter-evidence.


The suspicion that a nerve agent, which is difficult to obtain at the individual level, was used is of grave significance. The Russian government has refused to clarify the facts. Isn’t it unavoidable that it is suspected of involvement in the case?


Under the authoritarian rule of President Putin, anti-government politicians and journalists have been attacked with poison and other materials. In most cases, the perpetrators were not arrested and the truth has been buried in the dark.


In 2018, a former Russian intelligence agent who was in exile in Britain became seriously ill from the effects of Novichok. The British government concluded that the case was attempted poisoning by Russian agents, but Russia did not cooperate in the investigation.


It cannot be overlooked that every time such an incident is repeated, a sense of fear is instilled in dissidents in Russia, and as a result, the anti-government movement is intimidated.


The latest incident has also affected German-Russian relations. The German government has asked Russia to explain the circumstances behind the incident and thoroughly investigate the case, mentioning a possibility that Germany could review a project constructing pipelines for natural gas from Russia to Germany.


Given the emphasis on natural gas pipelines in its energy policy, Germany has been promoting the project despite opposition from the United States and Eastern Europe. The German government hinted at a review of the project despite completion being at a late stage, apparently because it judged it necessary to take a tough stance on Russia.


Putin must take the warning seriously.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 22, 2020.

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