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HOW THE NAVALNY NOVICHOK OPERATION WAS PREPARED — NEW EVIDENCE FROM GERMANY

By John Helmer, Moscow, and Liane Theuerkauf, Munich 
  @bears_with [1]

The planning to fly Alexei Navalny (lead image) from Russia to Germany, and there to accuse the Kremlin of trying to kill him with Novichok, started before Navalny himself knew he was ill.

The new evidence comes from records of the German medical evacuation team based in Nuremberg. This five-man team  —  two pilots, two paramedic nurses, one physician specialist in emergency medicine —  flew from Nuremberg to Omsk; collected Navalny, and with his wife Yulia Navalnaya and assistant Maria Pevchikh, flew to Berlin, where Navalny was revived.

But the evidence reveals their mission began with orders to the aircraft and to the team members when they were at Shannon airport, western Ireland, on the morning of August 20, 2020; those orders were first issued the day before, on August 19. That’s the day before Navalny collapsed on a flight between Tomsk and Moscow, and then following the emergency diversion of the aircraft to Omsk,  before he was taken to Omsk Emergency Hospital Number 1.

The German evidence, newly obtained this week, also discloses that the first allegation that Navalny had been poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent came from Pevchikh. She told the German medevac doctor and paramedics when they were with Navalny in the intensive care unit at the Omsk hospital where Navalny was being treated. “She spoke English perfectly”, Dr Philipp Jacoby remembers.

The evidence of the poisoning was in several water bottles Pevchikh had taken from Navalny’s hotel room in Tomsk, and brought to Omsk after recording a film of herself and others from Navalny’s staff collecting them from the hotel room.  These bottles Navalnaya and Pevchikh asked the German doctor to take through the Omsk airport baggage check and on to the medevac aircraft in a backpack attached to his own luggage. “She didn’t tell us what was inside,” Jacoby said in an interview this week. “You could feel they were half-litre bottles, the hotel-room type, maybe five of them. The backpack was strapped to my bag and it went on board with me.”

When the aircraft reached Berlin, the backpack with the bottles was delivered to the Charité hospital along with Navalny. It had been unloaded from the aircraft and put on a German security lorry which took Navalny’s luggage to the Charité hospital. “I handed the bottles to the intensive care unit,” Jacoby says. “They were happy to get the bottles.” A German investigation followed later. “I got a phone call from the German security service asking how the bottles came to Germany,” Jacoby says. He also remembers an earlier concern about Pevchikh’s bottles at Omsk airport, before takeoff. “The [medevac] co-pilot was upset that we took on board someone’s luggage that wasn’t our own.”

The significance of these disclosures from Germany this week is heightened by the charges from the Russian Foreign Ministry that the Navalny Novichok operation had been planned in advance by the German, British and US secret services.

In a statement issued on August 18 [2], marking the one-year anniversary of the case, the Russian ministry referred to the medevac flight:  “This plane, which quickly arrived in Omsk in the early hours of August 21, 2020, also carried a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany, whose occupation, for some reason, remains undisclosed by the German side, as well as a person associated with the British special services who had recently acquired British citizenship, Maria Pevchikh. For reasons unknown, the fact that she was on board that flight has so far not been confirmed by the German authorities, even though she admitted it in her interview with the Russian BBC Service on September 18, 2020.”  

Left to right: Alexei Navalny, Maria Pevchikh; for more on Pevchikh’s role as the intermediary between Russian opposition financiers in the UK and MI6, read this [3]. Right: Vladimir Ashurkov, Russian exile in London  and MI6 contact in the funding of Navalny’s political campaigns in Russia. Ashurkov’s falling-out with Navalny over the money supply of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) occurred not long before the Tomsk incident.

The aircraft, a Bombardier CL-600-2B16 Challenger 604, number 5348, is operated by Flight Ambulance International,  FAI Aviation Group, based in Nuremberg. The company operates [4]conventional private jets as well as air ambulance aircraft, and provides maintenance services for privately owned Bombardier and Lear Falcon jets.   FAI was the medevac company engaged in September 2018 [5] to fly  the Pussy Riot member, Pyotr Verzilov, from Russia to the Charité hospital in Berlin in an alleged poisoning case.  The commercial arrangement for that flight, Cinema for Peace Foundation run by Jaka Bizlij [6],  has also been reported publicly as the organizer of the Navalny flight.

FAI advertises the medical equipment used for Navalny inside the Bombardier aircraft. In this case, the FAI personnel did not wear hazmat suits. Source: https://www.fai.ag/ [7]

Officially, FAI is not providing information about the Navalny flight operation of August 20-22, 2020, nor has the company commented on the Russian Foreign Ministry statement last month.

Jacoby was officially identified as the doctor in charge on the flight in the publication last December of the clinical case report by Navalny’s treating doctors at the Charité hospital. Their report was published in the British medical journal Lancet [8].   For analysis of the case report’s evidence that Navalny had not been poisoned by Novichok, read this [9].

In the Lancet report signed by 14 German doctors, Jacoby is ranked 10th; he was listed with an affiliation to FAI. Charité’s press office confirms he is not employed by the Charité organisation.

Jacoby also gave an interview to the German state public television company ZDF, which was first broadcast last month,  on August 20 [10].

Dr Philipp Jacoby. Left: in the ZDF film. https://www.zdf.de/ [10] Right: Reuters photograph of German medevac team arriving at Omsk hospital to see Navalny;  Jacoby is on the right. Source: https://tass.com/ [11]

News agencies have published several photographs of Navalny being attended by Jacoby, the FAI nurses, and Russian medical personnel before he was loaded on board the FAI aircraft. Jacoby himself took this photograph:

Maria Pevchikh has published other photographs of the loading of Navalny on board the aircraft: https://twitter.com/ [12]

Jacoby was asked if the man in green with aviator sunglasses and a military crewcut was German and a member of the medevac crew. “I don’t know who that was,” Jacoby replied. “He was not on the flight coming in. He was Russian.”

Russian sources say the figure in the photograph appears to be military and does not look Russian. Jacoby is emphatic that the man was not on the medevac flight and that the Russian Ministry statement about a German citizen on board  “whose occupation…remains undisclosed by the German side” does not apply to himself, the two paramedics, or the two pilots.

Jacoby’s account of the preparation of the FAI flight from Nuremberg to Omsk, and his role  treating Navalny, commences, he says,  with “a mission from Kabul to Houston, Texas.” With Jacoby on board, the FAI Bombadier had flown its first mission from Afghanistan to the US, refuelling at Keflavik, Iceland, and Goose Bay, Canada; and then returned to Europe by the same route. The aircraft landed at Shannon for refuelling; Jacoby and the crew spent the night of August 19 at a Shannon hotel. Their orders to stand by for a new mission to Russia came through that evening.

Jacoby and the FAI crew were also joined in Shannon by a paramedic nurse whom FAI had ordered there the day before. “One of the nurses flew from Germany to Dublin,” Jacoby recalls, “and from there he rented a car to Shannon.”  At a minimum he took four hours to travel this  distance.  It is unclear from this record when exactly FAI despatched this nurse to join the team. Jacoby recalls it was at Shannon where the pilots received their orders from Nuremberg to be ready to fly on a new mission to Russia. The team were not told where exactly in Russia they would be going. When Jacoby asked his headquarters from his Shannon hotel what was the condition of the patient, he says he was told: “Don’t ask so many questions. You’ll get all the answers in Nuremberg” The crew and aircraft were then ordered  to fly back to base where they received “our first secure information”.

The aircraft took off from Shannon at 10 am local time on August 20, 2020; it was then 12 noon in Moscow; 3 pm in Omsk. Navalny had been in Omsk Hospital for about five hours.   

In Nuremberg later the same afternoon Jacoby and several nurses were briefed on their mission; Omsk was identified as their destination, and Navalny their assignment. At that point Jacoby says, a young woman nurse, a pediatric care specialist, said that she was frightened, and did not want to participate in the mission. She was replaced by an older male paramedic. Jacoby says he knew and had worked with both of the paramedics on board. With two fresh pilots, they took off for Omsk just after 3 in the morning, German time, arriving just after 7,  Omsk time.  The flight timing was confirmed by Tass [11].

The aircraft took off for the return flight to Germany at 8 o’clock in the Omsk morning, August 22. Jacoby and his colleagues had been on the ground for 25 hours.

In last month’s interview,  ZDF asked Jacoby for details of his role at Omsk Hospital, and he  briefly described seeing Navalny salivating. In this week’s interview, Jacoby provided more details of Navalny’s symptoms as he recalled witnessing them in Omsk. “He was shivering. We weren’t sure why or if they were seizures. His body temperature was 32 degrees Celsius; his heart rate was low at 40. He was sweating.”

A leading British toxicologist reports that in organophosphate cases, “the literature suggests hypothermia as an initial symptom. Some victims have a body temp as low as 32 degrees. Some days later, fever has been reported in some survivors. As for heartbeat, there doesn’t seem to be consistency. Tachycardia [heart beat over 100] more common than bradycardia [less than 60].” For more medical details, read this [13].  

Jacoby and his co-authors of the Navalny report for Lancet published this listing of the substances identified in testing of Navalny’s blood and urine on his arrival at Charité.

Source: https://drive.google.com [14] For expert analysis, read this [15].  On the medical significance for Navalny’s collapse of his litium-benzodiazepine habit, read this [16].

According to Jacoby, he was responsible for the fentanyl detected in Navalny’s initial test record.  He was asked about the lithium and benzodiazepines. “I’ve no idea where the lithium or benzodiazepines came from,” he says in retrospect. “Maybe he took it on a daily basis.”

He recalls hearing the Russian doctor in charge of Navalny at Omsk say that he diagnosed Navalny as suffering from a metabolic reaction. “He touched Navalny without gloves”, Jacoby remembers when asked what contamination risk procedures he had followed in Omsk. “I don’t know why he did that.”

Jacoby remembers that while he was at Omsk he consulted with the doctors in Berlin and was told not to give Navalny atropine, one of the standard medications for suspected organophosphate poisoning. “We had with us 6 milligrams of atropine. We didn’t have enough. [Charité said] we would need 750 milligrams of atropine.” He believes the atropine detected in Navalny’s urine on his arrival at Charité had been administered by the Russian doctors.

The first mention of Novichok, Jacoby says, came at the Omsk hospital. He remembers: “Novichok was mentioned at Omsk by Maria [Pevchikh]. She spoke English perfectly.” That, according to Jacoby, was in the middle of the day, August 21.  

The German Government did not mention Novichok publicly for another twelve days. On September 2 Steffen Seibert, chief government spokesman,  issued a statement in Berlin claiming to describe what the German military laboratory, the Institut für Pharmakologie und Toxikologie der Bundeswehr (IPTB) in Munich,  had reported to Chancellor Angela Merkel and her ministers. Seibert’s statement claimed [17] that “at the instigation of the Charité medical university Berlin a special laboratory of the armed forces carried out a toxicological investigation [toxikologische Untersuchung]  on the basis of Alexei Navalny’s tests [proben].   On this occasion, the definite proof [zweifelsfreie Nachweis] of a chemical nerve agent of the Novitchok group was produced.”

On November 19, 2020, the German Government told parliament in written testimony that it knew nothing about Pevchikh’s presence on the medevac aircraft or the bottles she brought to Berlin. The German army laboratory in Munich, and the laboratory testing in Sweden and France, as well as by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), have indirectly confirmed they did not test the bottles.

If Pevchikh’s bottles have been dismissed as evidence of a crime against Navalny, they remain  evidence of Pevchikh’s crime. Once recorded by Jacoby at the Charité intensive care unit, however, the bottles have disappeared.