Germany probes suspected poisoning of Russian exiles: report

AFP - [email protected]
Germany probes suspected poisoning of Russian exiles: report
Police officers man a barrricade near the Chancellery, to ensure security for Ukraine's President who visited the German Chancellor on May 14, 2023 in Berlin. Photo: John MACDOUGALL/AFP.

German police are investigating the possible poisoning of exiled Russians after a journalist and an activist reported health problems following a Berlin meeting of dissidents, a spokesman for the force said Sunday.


The inquiry is being handled by the state security unit, a specialised team that examines cases related to terrorism or politically motivated crimes, a Berlin police spokesman told AFP.

"An investigation has been opened. The probe is ongoing," he said, declining to provide further details.

The development came after a report by Russian investigative media outlet Agentstvo which said two participants who attended a April 29-30 meeting of Russian dissidents in Berlin experienced health problems.

The Berlin meeting was organised by exiled former oligarch turned Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

One participant, identified as a journalist who had recently left Russia, experienced unspecified symptoms during the event but said the symptoms may have started earlier.

The report added that the journalist went to the Charite Hospital in Berlin -- where Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was treated after being poisoned in August 2020.

The second participant mentioned was Natalia Arno, director of the NGO Free Russia Foundation in the United States, where she has lived for 10 years after leaving Russia.


'Intense pain'

Arno confirmed the incident on Facebook, saying she had initially thought she was affected by jet lag and fatigue when she felt unwell in Berlin.

She subsequently travelled to Prague where she found her hotel room door open and detected a strange smell like cheap perfume in the room. But the odour was no longer there when she returned later in the night.

She said she woke up very early with  "intense pain and strange symptoms".

"I didn't think of the possibility of poisoning and was certain that I just needed to see a dentist urgently," she wrote.

She took the next plane back to the United States and on the flight, the symptoms became "very strange, through the whole body and with pronounced numbness".

She ended up at emergency services, but the tests showed that she was in good shape like "an astronaut".

She added that "Western special services" are investigating.

Contacted by AFP, Czech authorities said they did not have information on the case.


'Inconclusive tests'

Beyond the April case, the Agentstvo report also said former US ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, now senior director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center, suffered from poisoning symptoms a few months before Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Atlantic Council think tank confirmed Herbst showed symptoms that could be those of poisoning in April 2021 but medical tests were inconclusive.

The council added that it worked with US federal investigators who took a blood sample but the lab results had failed to detect toxic compounds.

Herbst has since recovered to full health.

Several poison attacks have been carried out abroad and in Russia against Kremlin opponents in recent years.

Moscow denies its secret services were responsible.

But European laboratories confirmed Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, a Soviet-made nerve agent.

The nerve agent was also used in an attempted murder in 2018 of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.

The Skripal case further exacerbated already dire relations between London and Moscow after the 2006 radiation poisoning death in the British capital of former spy Alexander Litvinenko.


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