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Putin says if Russia wanted to kill opposition leader Navalny, it would have ‘finished’ the job

Navalny was poisoned with the toxin Novichok in August and nearly died. After initial treatment in Omsk, Siberia, he was taken to a clinic in Berlin. 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].”

In CNN’s report published Monday, experts in toxicology said Novichok could take up to 12 hours to affect the nervous system, depending on the dosage and how it’s administered. Short of injecting exactly the right dose into someone, it is almost impossible for the perpetrator to dose Novichok so as to incapacitate rather than kill.

Putin described reports about Navalny — to whom he did not at any point refer by name — 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,” 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 and citizens posed questions via video link from Moscow and elsewhere.

Putin denies US election interference

Putin also addressed the question of Russia’s troubled relations with the United States, saying he hoped some of the problems would be resolved under the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

“We proceed from the fact that the elected president of the United States will understand what’s going on — he is an experienced man, both in domestic and foreign policy,” Putin said.

Putin congratulated Biden on his election victory this week, six weeks after the vote and after the Electoral College officially affirmed Biden’s win.

Asked whether Russia was willing to support US President Donald Trump after he leaves office next month, Putin said Trump wouldn’t need “to seek a job” in Russia.

“There is no need for Trump to seek a job [in Russia]. Almost 50% of the population voted for him, if we count the popular vote and not the electoral college,” Putin said when asked half-jokingly by an RTVI reporter if Russia would grant Trump asylum, as it did for former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

“[Trump] has a fairly large support base within the United States, and, as far as I understand, he is not going to leave the political life of his country,” Putin added.

Asked why the Russian hackers did not “help get Trump elected” in the 2020 presidential run, Putin once again denied any interference in US elections.

“Russian hackers did not help the still-acting US president get elected and did not intervene in the internal affairs of this great country,” Putin said. “This is just a speculation. It is a pretext to hurt US-Russia relations; it’s a pretext to not acknowledge the legitimacy of the still-acting head of state of the US due to internal political reasons.”

The US intelligence community has concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election to help then-candidate Trump. That conclusion was supported in a bipartisan report from the US Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this year.

Trump repeatedly dismissed claims that Russia tried to help him win in 2016 as a “hoax.”

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.

With vaccine rollout comes onslaught of disinformation

“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.

CNN’s Mary Ilyushina reported from Moscow and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London.

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