Alexey Navalny/ Instagram

In Russia, most people don’t believe Navalny was deliberately poisoned

A new survey shows that even among those who think the poisoning was intentional, just one in three believe President Vladimir Putin or other Russian authorities are behind the plot

A new poll reveals that only 33% of Russians believe opposition figure Alexey Navalny was intentionally poisoned last month.

The poll, conducted by Levada Center, a Moscow-based independent research organization, follows Navalny’s first public interview where he directly pointed the finger at the Russian president for his poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok. 

According to the survey, even among those who said the poisoning was deliberate, just one in three believe President Vladimir Putin, the secret services or other state authorities are behind the plot.

“I assert that Putin was behind the crime, and I have no other explanation for what happened,” Navalny said on October 1, during an interview in Berlin with the German daily Der Spiegel.

While pro-state television has pushed various theories of what might have happened when Navalny became ill on August 20 during a flight to Moscow, President Putin proposed a simpler version while on a phone call on September 23 with French President Emmanuel Macron, suggesting Navalny poisoned himself.

In a rare move, one of Russia’s most widely watched state TV reporters Dmitry Kiselyov traded his slick Moscow studios for a hotel in the Siberian city Tomsk, broadcasting from the exact room where Navalny allegedly took the poison.

In his usual theatrical manner, which has earned Kiselyov the nickname “Putin’s chief propagandist,” the broadcaster spoke to the camera dressed in a bathrobe while shaving. “You know I actually had invited my wife to stay here with me,” he said confidently.

The September 27 broadcast focused on showing how safe the hotel room was. If traces of Novichok had been found on the room’s water bottles, as Navalny’s aides have said, the hotel would be closed, reasoned Kiseylov. He asked viewers to pay attention to the contrast between his white bathrobe in the hotel room and the white hazmat suits worn by officials in the aftermath of the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England in March 2018.

Russian media reports have heavily referenced the Salisbury poisoning, pointing to how quickly the international community blamed Russia. Some of the theories circulated by pro-Russian media about Navalny’s poisoning have included allegations of drug use or that he had been drinking moonshine which poisoned him.

Navalny has long been the favorite subject of state-TV stories accusing him of working for the CIA, among other allegations, explained Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speechwriter-turned-political-analyst in Moscow.

“The poll results fall in exactly with how society in Russia is now divided into three groups, with about a third supporting the opposition,” Gallyamov said. He pointed to another important finding in the Levada poll which showed Navalny’s approval ratings have doubled in the past year to 20% while President Putin’s fell to 59%, a 20-year low.

An earlier version of this piece incorrectly reported that 25% of Russians believe Navalny was intentionally poisoned, it has since been updated to 33%.

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