Navalny associates say Novichok was found on water bottle in his hotel room

Alexei Navalny spent weeks in a medically induced coma after falling suddenly ill on a plane in late August

The nerve agent used to poison Alexei Navalny was found on a water bottle in his hotel room shortly after the Russian opposition fell ill on a plane back to Moscow, his associates revealed on Thursday.

Mr Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, spent weeks on a ventilator in a medically induced coma after falling suddenly ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow last month.

Several European laboratories independently confirmed that the top Kremlin critic had been poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, previously used in the attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.

Mr Navalny’s team revealed on Thursday that the poison was found on one of the free water bottles that his colleagues retrieved from his hotel room in the Siberian city of Tomsk shortly after Mr Navalny became unwell on the plane.

Alexei Navalny spent weeks on a ventilator in a medically induced coma before he began gradually recovering earlier this month Credit: Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

Lyubov Sobol, one of Mr Navalny’s closest allies, told the Telegraph that the traces of Novichok found proves that the opposition leader was targeted by a well-planned Kremlin attack.

“Navalny was constantly followed. There’s no doubt that only Russian intelligence agencies could have organised this poisoning under direct orders or with the knowledge of President Putin,” she said.

The Kremlin denies any involvement in Mr Navalny’s poisoning, while Russian police have refused to launch an official inquiry.

The 44-year-old opposition leader was in Tomsk with his team in mid-August, filming a video for an anti-corruption investigation and headed back to Moscow while four of his colleagues stayed behind for another day.

Mr Navalny’s associates went to his room as soon as they heard that he had lost consciousness on the plane that later had to make an emergency landing.

“We realised that Alexei has been poisoned because it could not have been anything else considering his good health and recent (government) practices in Russia,” Georgy Alburov, one of Mr Navalny’s colleagues who was staying in Tomsk, told the Telegraph.

“The only thing we could do was to try to preserve the evidence.”

Alexei Navalny spent two days in a Siberian hospital before receiving clearance for medical evacuation to Germany Credit: Alexey Malgavko/Reuters

Mr Alburov said that they managed to convince hotel staff to let them into Mr Navalny’s room, and they took everything that could be useful for the investigation including three water bottles, packing them up in plastic bags.

Those items were later delivered to Germany where Mr Navalny was taken after spending two days in a Siberian hospital, waiting for clearance for medical evacuation.

Mr Navalny, then an anti-corruption activist, rose to prominence in 2011 when he led massive anti-government protests against electoral fraud.

He has since emerged as a fully fledged opposition leader with a strong following in Moscow and Russian regions, winning 27 per cent of the vote at the 2013 Moscow mayoral election.

With two suspended sentences against him, the politician was barred from running for president in 2018, but his campaign against Mr Putin has galvanised opposition supporters across the country. Mr Navalny's campaign headquarters in Russian provinces became major centres of opposition resistance.

Most recently, Mr Navalny’s supporters, from Russia’s south to the Siberian city where he was poisoned, mounted an impressive election campaign, winning a sizeable number of seats in local parliaments previously dominated by the ruling party.

Mr Navalny was brought out of a medically induced coma earlier this month and said on Tuesday in his first social media post since the poisoning that he was breathing unaided for the first time in weeks.

Doctors have said that his condition was improving, but did not rule out long-term damage to his health Mr Navalny’s associates are cautious.

The traces of Novichok on the water bottle indicate that he had been poisoned before he went to the airport but it does not necessarily mean that the poison was in the bottle, the doctors added. 

Hotel staff refused to show CCTV footage from outside Mr Navalny’s room to his team, and the tapes, together with the equipment and servers, have been seized by the police, his associates say.

“Authorities have got all it takes to conduct an investigation but they are not doing that, saying they can’t hold a probe without Berlin’s help, which is an absolute lie,” Ms Sobol said.

“They can easily find out who was coming in and out of his room.”