Water bottles are seen in a hotel room where Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny stayed during his recent visit in the Siberian city of Tomsk, on this still image from a social media video obtained by Reuters Sept. 17, 2020. (Instagram @Navalny)
Water bottles are seen in a hotel room where Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny stayed during his recent visit in the Siberian city of Tomsk, on this still image from a social media video obtained by Reuters Sept. 17, 2020. (Instagram @Navalny)

Associates of Alexei Navalny say traces of the nerve agent used to poison the Russian opposition politician were found on a water bottle in the hotel room he was staying in in the Russian city of Tomsk.

Navalny, 44, felt unwell while on a plane on his way from Tomsk to Moscow in late August, forcing the airliner to make an emergency landing in the city of Omsk, where he was rushed to a hospital. He was later flown to the Charite clinic in Berlin, Germany, where toxicology tests provided "unequivocal evidence" that the gravely ill Kremlin-critic had been poisoned with a nerve agent from the Soviet-era Novichok chemical group.

Navalny's blog on Instagram said on September 17 that his associates were still in the Xander hotel in Tomsk when news of the politician's illness broke. They immediately rushed to Navalny’s vacated and yet-to-be-cleaned room, where they collected any suspicious items they saw, including an opened bottle of mineral water with the brand name that translates as "Holy Spring."

The Proekt website on September 17 quoted one of Navalny's associates who said that the bottle was taken to Berlin by one of Navalny's team members, Maria Pevchikh, who is a resident of the United Kingdom.

The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on September 17 that it is providing technical assistance to Germany in investigating Navalny's case of poisoning with the nerve agent.

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny and his family members pose for a picture at Charite hospital in Berlin, Germany, in this undated image obtained from social media, Sept. 15, 2020.
Poisoned Russian Opposition Leader Posts Photo from Hospital Bed
Alexei Navalny, surrounded by his family as he sat up in bed, says he was pleased to be able to breathe independently

"A team of experts from the Technical Secretariat independently collected biomedical samples from Mr. Navalny for analysis by OPCW designated laboratories. Results of this analysis are forthcoming and will be shared with the German authorities," the statement said.

Germany has demanded Russia explain the incident, but Russia has vehemently denied any involvement and has pressed Germany to share the evidence that led to the verdict Navalny was poisoned.

Navalny has led nationwide protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has been attacked with a dangerous chemical and fallen ill in Russian custody in the past.

Among the Kremlin opponents who have been killed or targeted in recent years are investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, former Russian Deputy Prime Minister and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, and former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, among others.

Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned by Novichok in the British city of Salisbury in 2018, and British investigators have implicated Russian security agencies. OPCW tests confirmed use of the highly toxic substance.

Members of the OPCW agreed in November 2019 to expand the agency's list of banned "Schedule 1" chemicals for the first time to include the Novichok family of nerve agents. That ban went into effect on June 7, 2020.

The OPCW was established in 1997 as a technical body to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention. It has played an active role in monitoring the use of banned chemical weapons in the Syrian war, which has made its work highly political.