Putin Claims Navalny Not Worth Poisoning, Alleges U.S. Smear Campaign

President Vladimir Putin said media reports that Russian state security agents had poisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny were part of a U.S.-backed plot to try to discredit him, saying Navalny was not important enough to be a target, Reuters reports.

Navalny, one of Putin’s leading critics, was airlifted to Germany in August after collapsing on a domestic flight. Laboratory tests in three European countries, confirmed by the global chemical weapons watchdog, established he was poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent but Russia denies this and says it has yet to be shown any evidence.

Citing flight records and mobile phone geolocation data, investigative website Bellingcat and Russian media outlet The Insider published results of a joint investigation on Monday carried out in cooperation with Der Spiegel and CNN.

The investigation, which Navalny endorsed, said it had identified a team of assassins from Russia’s FSB security service, who had stalked him for years. It named the intelligence officers and poison laboratories it said were behind the operation.

Putin on Thursday dismissed the investigation, saying it was made up of information provided by U.S. intelligence services.

“It’s a trick to attack the leaders (of Russia),” Putin told his annual news conference.

He suggested Navalny enjoyed the support of U.S. intelligence, an allegation Navalny denies. It was therefore right, said Putin, that Russian security agents kept an eye on him.