An assailant has smashed a bottle containing a ‘chemical agent’ in the Siberian offices of a Russian opposition group backed by poisoned Putin critic Alexei Navalny.
Two people were taken to hospital on Tuesday for tests after the masked assailants entered the offices of the Anti-Corruption Foundation in Novosibirsk, Siberia’s biggest city.
The attack comes ahead of city council elections on Sunday in which the opposition group is standing against Putin’s ruling party.
Navalny, 44, was in Novosibirsk last month to promote opposition candidates before he fell ill with apparent Novichok poisoning on a flight and was taken to a Berlin hospital.
An assailant has smashed a bottle containing a ‘chemical agent’ in the Siberian offices of a Russian opposition group
The Novosibirsk 2020 coalition is competing with the ruling party and communists in the regional elections, the first since Putin secured another 16 years in power in at a controversial referendum in July.
Video surveillance images showed a masked man wearing a hooded coat who threw a glass bottle on the floor and fled along with a fellow assailant.
Anti-Corruption Foundation member Olga Gousseva wrote on Twitter: ‘An unidentified person burst into the office and smashed a bottle that contained an unidentified chemical substance.
Video surveillance images showed a masked man wearing a hooded coat who threw a glass bottle on the floor and fled along with a fellow assailant
Alexei Navalny, 44, was in Novosibirsk last month to promote opposition candidates before he fell ill with apparent Novichok poisoning
‘A meeting was taking place in the office with around 50 people.’
A ‘disgusting, stinging odour’ filled the room, said FBK director Ivan Jdanov, confirming two people had been taken to hospital, while others reported feeling faint.
Opposition media MBKh reported that police had determined the substance to be an antiseptic product used in veterinary medicine that has a ‘strong, disagreeable odour.’
The attack comes ahead of city council elections on Sunday in which the opposition group is standing against Putin’s ruling party
Putin’s United Russia party holds 33 of Novosibirsk city council’s 50 seats ahead of Sunday’s elections, but ratings have dropped in recent years.
It comes after high-profile Putin critic Alexei Navalny was taken out of an induced coma and became responsive on Monday following his poisoning on August 22.
German chemical weapons experts say tests show he was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent, prompting the German government last week to demand that Russia investigate the case.
Russian opposition leader Navalny was taken out of an induced coma on Monday and is responsive after he was ‘poisoned’ at an airport. His press officers claim he was spiked while drinking a cup of tea at a cafe, pictured
Berlin’s Charite hospital said on Monday that Navalny’s condition has improved, allowing doctors to end the medically induced coma and gradually ease him off mechanical ventilation.
The hospital said in a statement: ‘The patient has been removed from his medically induced coma and is being weaned off mechanical ventilation.
‘He is responding to verbal stimuli. It remains too early to gauge the potential long-term effects of his severe poisoning.’
It added that the decision to publicly release details of his condition was made in consultation with Navalny’s wife.
Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s press secretary, says she suspects poison was added to the cup before he fell ill on a flight and was rushed to hospital
He has been in an induced coma in the Berlin hospital since he was flown to Germany for treatment.
German authorities said last week that tests showed ‘proof without doubt’ that he had been poisoned with a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group.
British authorities identified the Soviet-era Novichok as the poison used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England in 2018.
German chancellor Angela Merkel said Mr Navalny’s poisoning was an attempt to silence one of President Putin’s fiercest critics.
Paramedics are seen at the clinic after the Russian opposition activist arrived at Charite in Berlin, Germany, 22 August
But Putin’s spokesman has brushed off allegations that the Kremlin was involved in poisoning Mr Navalny and said last week that Germany had not provided Moscow with any evidence about the politician’s condition.
Navalny’s associates say the use of Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, shows that only the Russian state could be responsible, but the Kremlin fiercely denies any involvement.
‘Attempts to somehow associate Russia with what happened are unacceptable to us, they are absurd,’ Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Monday.
Navalny is in a medically induced coma at the Charite hospital in Berlin (pictured on Wednesday)
News of his gradual recovery came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office indicated that she might be willing to rethink the fate of a controversial German-Russian gas pipeline project – a sign of Berlin’s growing frustration over Moscow’s stonewalling about the case.
Russian officials have accused Germany of being slow to share the findings of its investigation, despite a request from prosecutors.
‘We expect information (from Germany) to be provided in the coming days,’ Peskov said. ‘We are looking forward to it.’
But Germany warned that the failure by Moscow to thoroughly investigate the incident could have serious consequences.
Navalny is seen as Putin’s most charismatic and potentially dangerous foe.
British authorities identified the Soviet-era Novichok as the poison used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England in 2018
He has faced constant legal attacks and has served a number of jail sentences.
His anti-corruption organisation was dubbed a ‘foreign agent’ by the Russian authorities.
Police have conducted repeated raids on his offices, and this is not the first time that Navalny has suffered a physical attack.
In 2017 he was left partially blind in one eye after attackers threw green dye used as a disinfectant at his face outside his office.
In August last year he suffered rashes and his face became swollen while he was in a police detention centre serving a short term for calling for illegal protests.
He was taken to hospital where doctors said he had suffered an allergic reaction but Navalny asked for an investigation into poisoning.