Russian exiles ‘poisoned’ at Berlin conference of Kremlin critic

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Police in Germany has launched an investigation after a Russian journalist and an activist who participated in a Berlin conference reported health problems which suggested they may have been poisoned. Russian investigative news website Agentstvo claims the pair became ill after attending an event on April 29 and 30 organised by exiled Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

A police spokesman told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper: “A file has been opened based on the information available.”

One of the victims, identified as an unnamed journalist who had left Russia recently, experienced unspecified symptoms during the event, believing they may have begun earlier.

The individual went to the Charite University Hospital in Berlin – where Putin critic Alexei Navalny was treated after he was poisoned three years ago.

A second victim was named as Natalia Arno, director of the NGO Free Russia Foundation in the United States, to where she moved after being forced to leave Russia.

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Arno was in Berlin at the end of last month before travelling to the Czech capital, Prague, where she experienced symptoms and found that her hotel room had been opened, reported Agentstvo.

Writing on Facebook, she described “sharp pain” and “numbness”.

The symptoms had since receded but had not yet disappeared, she explained.

A statement published on the website of the Free Russia Foundation on Thurday said: “While traveling abroad recently, Free Russia Foundation’s president fell ill under circumstances that cause great concern.

“The matter is under investigation.

“The health and safety of our staff and beneficiaries are our paramount concern.

“Free Russia Foundation continues its work for a free, democratic, peaceful and prosperous Russia, reintegrated into the international community as a constructive and positive actor.”

The Kremlin has been accused of orchestrating numerous poisoning attacks in recent years, not least one in which GRU operatives targeted former double agent Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia with the nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury in 2018.

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The pair survived, but Dawn Sturgess, from nearby Amesbury, who weeks later sprayed the substance on her wrist believing it to be perfume, died.

Russia has always denied any involvement in the Salisbury poisonings – but the episode severely damaged diplomatic relations between the UK Russian, even before Putin ordered his invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

European laboratories have confirmed Mr Navalny, who has since returned to Russia and is now in prison, was also poisoned using Novichok.

There is no indication so far that Novichok was used in the latest incidents.

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