After strenuously resisting calls to investigate the suspected poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny for a week, the Russian Interior Ministry finally gave in to international pressure on Thursday and announced a probe into the case.
The foreign minister of France, Jean-Yves Le Drian, immediately criticized the proposed investigation for its lack of transparency.
Reuters reported “the transportation unit of the Siberian branch of the Interior Ministry” would conduct the investigation, which is not quite what international observers and Navalny allies had envisioned.
The investigators have already announced they have “inspected the hotel room where Navalny had been staying in Tomsk and the routes he had taken in the city, as well as analysed video surveillance footage from the area,” and found no evidence of “drugs or other potent substances.”
Le Drian clearly signaled on Thursday that Russia’s investigative efforts thus far are insufficient, and said the European Union will discuss taking further steps late next week.
“I don’t understand why the Russians aren’t playing the transparency game because it is in their interest,” Le Drian said in a radio interview.
“It’s a crime. Russia needs to take the initiative to carry out a transparent investigation, and when the guilty are found to use it a lesson,” he elaborated.
“It’s not the first time there is a poisoning,” Le Drian added darkly.
The French Foreign Minister suggested Moscow could save itself a good deal of trouble, and perhaps even earn some sanctions relief, by launching a more thorough and transparent investigation.
“We have some sanctions already in place so I think if they were to take the initiative of transparency it would be to their credit,” he said.
The Kremlin indicated on Thursday that no further investigation is coming.
“Here, in this case, nothing has changed. We still, unfortunately, do not have an understanding of what caused the condition the patient is in now,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday, evidently misunderstanding that the point of an investigation is to achieve understanding.
Navalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, the comatose opposition leader’s fiercest advocate and a fellow passenger aboard the Siberia-Moscow flight where he took ill, erupted on Thursday after Russian state television floated a theory that Navalny got sick after consuming an energy drink.
The TV station in question just happens to belong to Yevgeny “Putin’s Chef” Prigozhin, the close Kremlin ally who hates Navalny so much that he recently purchased the debt from a court decision against Navalny just so he can have the pleasure of personally bankrupting the man.
“It’s a lie. Alexey didn’t drink an energy drink. And I didn’t talk about it,” Yarmysh said on Thursday about the energy drink story.
Moscow’s conspiracy theories about Navalny’s predicament – including a theory floated by President Vladimir Putin that Navalny was poisoned in a false-flag operation by agents of a hostile foreign power he did not name – are based on the assertion that Putin would gain nothing by killing or incapacitating Navalny, dismissed by Putin’s allies as a loudmouthed pest discredited by court decisions who poses no real threat.
Reuters on Thursday quoted some Russian analysts and Navalny allies who strongly disputed that characterization, arguing that Navalny retains enough influence to make his “smart voting” strategy – in essence, voting strategically for the strongest opposition candidates, even if the elections are rigged so Putin cannot lose – and anti-corruption investigations a real problem for the authoritarian Russian president.
Even a “source close to the Kremlin,” who sought to minimize Navalny as an annoyance, admitted to Reuters that he might be irreplaceable. “He is bright, young, handsome, famous, has found his own style … when will the same appear? Not soon,” the source said.