Russian dissident Alexei Navalny didn’t just survive one assassination attempt — he also withstood being poisoned a second time while still in a coma, according to a report Sunday.
The 44-year-old opposition leader was targeted by agents for the Kremlin who rushed to the hospital in the Russian city Omsk where he was taken after being poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent on Aug. 20, western intelligence sources told The Sunday Times of London.
“This was with a view to him being dead by the time he arrived in Berlin,” one source said of the alleged second botched assassination attempt before Navalny was allowed to fly to Germany for treatment.
Navalny was likely saved — again — by the antidote atropine that he had been administered by the ambulance crew that met him when the plane he was on was first diverted to Omsk, the report said.
“If he were already ‘atropin-ized,’ this would counteract the nerve agent, although it might mean prolonging his coma,” Alastair Hay, professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds University, said.
Without it, the nerve agent, a previously unknown form of novichok, would have caused “multiple organ failure,” with the lungs first to give up before a painful death, experts said.
“That atropine saved his life,” Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, former commander of the British army’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment, told The Sunday Times.
As well as detailing an alleged second botched attempt, the intelligence sources also detailed a new theory for how Navalny was first poisoned — just by putting on his underwear.
Kremlin agents may have broken into Navalny’s hotel room and placed novichok on the waistband of his underpants where it would come into contact with his skin, retired Russian chemist Vladimir Uglev told the UK paper.
Russia — which has repeatedly denied poisoning Navalny — has refused to hand over his clothing to be tested, the report noted.
A security official insisted to the UK paper that the agent is “not a substance you can cook up in a kitchen, not something you could administer without training.”
“Novichok can only come from a state,” the official insisted.
General Sir Richard Barrons, Britain’s former commander of Britain’s Joint Forces Command, said that Russia uses the painful assassination method to send “a very clear message — ‘If you screw with us terrible things will happen.’”
“It’s more ghastly than other forms of assassination — a slow death, they like that. They like to see their enemies suffering, it adds to the message,” he insisted.
Another western intelligence likened Russia’s leadership to a drug cartel.
“In their suits and ties, people in the government look sophisticated but it’s just a veneer for thuggery,” the source told The Sunday Times.
Despite the Kremlin’s denials, Navalny has repeatedly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin for his near-fatal poisoning.
Before he found himself fighting for his life, Navalny was traveling through Siberia urging Russians to vote against Putin’s cronies in upcoming local elections.
He openly denounced Putin as “the tsar of corruption” and referred to the Russian leader’s party as a group of “crooks and thieves.”