(CNN) — Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Thursday that opposition politician Alexey Navalny “is enjoying the support of the US special services,” adding that if Russian special services had wanted to kill him they would have “finished it.”
Putin’s comments came in response to a question at his annual press conference following an investigation by the investigative group Bellingcat and CNN, published Monday, which uncovered evidence that Russia’s Federal Security Service (the FSB) formed an elite team specializing in nerve agents that trailed Navalny for years.
Navalny was poisoned with the toxin Novichok in August and nearly died. He was taken to Berlin for medical treatment. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in his poisoning.
“Listen, we know very well what this is… this is a legalization, not some investigation but the legalization of the materials of American special services,” Putin said Thursday.
“What, we don’t know that they are tracking location? Our special services know this perfectly well, the FSB officers and officers of other agencies know it. They use their phones where they deem necessary not to conceal their location. And if it’s like that — and it is — it means this patient in the Berlin clinic is enjoying the support of the US special services in this,” Putin said.
“And if that’s correct, then that’s interesting, then of course [our] special services need to keep an eye on him. But that doesn’t mean he needs to be poisoned, who needs him anyway? If [they] wanted to, they would’ve probably finished it,” Putin added.
“But in this case, his wife asked me, and I immediately gave the order to let him out of the country to be treated in Germany… This is a trick to attack the leaders [in Russia].”
Putin also described reports about Navalny as “implanted stories.”
“There is actually nothing surprising about the fact that these implanted stories are taking place. They have always been and will always be. This kind of informational confrontation is taking place. They were before,” he said.
Putin’s comments came a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said reports about the details surrounding the poisoning of opposition figure Alexey Navalny are “funny to read,” in an apparent reference to the CNN-Bellingcat investigation.
Putin held the lengthy press conference from his Novo-Ogaryovo residence in the Moscow region. A select group of socially distanced state media journalists, who had to undergo quarantine before attending, were in the room with him. Other journalists posed questions via video link from Moscow and elsewhere.
Putin urges mass vaccination
Earlier in the press conference, Putin — who is 68 — confirmed that he has not been inoculated with a Russian coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V, as it is yet to be recommended for people older than 60.
“The vaccines that are being circulated among the general population today are intended for people in a certain age group, and the vaccines have not yet reached people like me,” said Putin.
“I’m a law-abiding citizen in that matter, I listen to the recommendations of our specialists and so far haven’t taken it. But I will do it as soon as it becomes a possibility.”
Russia registered Sputnik V in August ahead of key large-scale Phase 3 trials necessary to establish the vaccine’s efficacy and safety, drawing skepticism both in Russia and internationally. According to the product description, the vaccine is recommended for use in people aged 18 to 60 and is not advised for people with a number of chronic diseases and health conditions.
“I think it’s necessary to [have mass vaccination], specialists across the world say that mass vaccination is one of the very few ways to overcome this pandemic, it should create population immunity,” Putin said. “And I repeat that our vaccine is effective and safe, so I see no reason not to vaccinate.”
Phase 3 trials are currently ongoing, but the country is already moving towards mass vaccination. The Russian Direct Investment Fund, which sponsored the vaccine’s development, said that more than 200,000 Russians had been inoculated as of December 14.
During the news conference, Putin also touched on production challenges faced by Russia, saying the country so far does not have enough “hardware” to manufacture the necessary amount of the vaccine and is working to increase the number of suitable production sites.
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