Tag Archives: poisoning

Following Putin and state media’s lead, many Russians dismissive of Navalny poisoning case

After several days of silence, perhaps the only surprising thing about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials Thursday that his secret police played a role in poisoning a political opponent was that he punctuated his comments with an uncomfortable-sounding chuckle.

“Who needs him?” Putin said of political foe Alexei Navalny during a news conference, laughing as he dismissed news reports that members of Russia’s federal security service, the FSB, specializing in nerve agents, followed Navalny during a trip to Siberia in August, where he was poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok and nearly died.

“If someone had wanted to poison him, they would have finished him off,” said Putin, returning to the well-worn Kremlin talking point that Russia’s secret services are too good to make such clumsy mistakes.

Putin denigrated Navalny as a nobody striving for political legitimacy, even providing a mocking imitation of his rival.

“Pay attention — it means I am a person of the same calibre [as Putin],” he said.

While the revelations about the FSB’s activities, published earlier this week by several Western news outlets, have enthralled many in the West, the Navalny case has long been largely ignored by the Russian media — and so, perhaps not surprisingly, by many Russians as well.

Alexei Navalny seen taking part in a rally in Moscow back in February. He is convinced Putin was complicit in his near-fatal poisoning in August. (Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)

Navalny was airlifted to a hospital in Berlin shortly after he was poisoned on Aug. 20, and has remained in that country even as his crusade against Putin has continued.

A lawyer by training, Navalny is one of the very few political figures in Russia who has directly challenged Putin’s authority and risked his own life and security by organizing mass protests. Yet, while his investigations into corruption involving senior members of Putin’s inner circle have been viewed tens of millions times on YouTube, he remains a polarizing figure.

Many Russians appear to believe Putin’s claim that Navalny works for foreign intelligence agencies, and even some Western-leaning liberals see him as a divisive figure who has failed to create a strong anti-Putin coalition.

Bellingcat investigation

The new revelations in the Navalny case come via a detailed investigation led by the international journalism collective Bellingcat.

Its investigative team says the findings were procured from data that can easily be purchased on the black market, including cellphone records and passenger flight logs.

The findings include evidence suggesting Russia’s secret police have used a special unit to trail Navalny since 2017, following him to 37 different locations around Russia. Bellingcat alleges it tracked the cellphone usage of several members of the team and those records put them with Navalny at the time he was poisoned in Siberia.

The journalists even released photos of the men, as well as their aliases and work and home addresses. A CNN reporter knocked on the apartment door of one of the men, but he quickly shut it after she introduced herself.

Bellingcat also alleges the men reported to a senior officer who was once associated with the Novichok nerve agent program, and that the chain of command led straight to Putin himself.

At Thursday’s news conference, Putin didn’t deny that Russian agents could be tracked by their cellphones, or that they may have had reason to keep an eye on Navalny.

“Don’t we know that [foreign intelligence agencies] track geo-location? Our intelligence services fully understand that and know it,” said Putin, as he repeated his claim that Navalny himself must be an agent of the U.S.

“It’s not an investigation — it is the legalization of data from the U.S special services,” Putin said.

Paramedics load a stretcher into an ambulance that reportedly transported Navalny to a Berlin hospital after he’d been poisoned. (Christian Mang/Reuters)

Putin’s constant refusal to discuss Navalny has seen him resort to using different descriptors rather than simply saying Navalny’s name.

On Thursday, Navalny was the “Berlin clinic patient.”

Russian disinterest

While the allegations about the FSB’s activities have been widely reported outside of Russia, within the country itself, it’s an entirely different story.

Until Putin’s comments Thursday, state TV programs ignored the story. Even the social media feeds of many of the Kremlin’s usual critics have been quiet on the topic.

In this photo from Feb. 24, 2014, police detain Navalny outside a courthouse in Moscow. (Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters)

At the news conference in Moscow, the CBC approached several prominent Russian journalists to ask why.

“I think Western media just pays too much attention to this person,” said host Mikhail Akinchenko of Channel One,  borrowing Putin’s technique of not referring to Navalny by name. 

“He’s not so interesting for our news agenda as for you, maybe because he’s not [such a] significant person for us.”

WATCH | State TV journalist explains lack of coverage of Navalny case: 

Russia Channel 1 political host Mikhail Akincheko explains why Russian state TV is ignoring the poisoning of Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny. 0:51

And what of the evidence that suggests the FSB may have tried to kill Navalny?

“Only that person who does not know the real situation in Russia,” would take the poison allegations seriously, Akinchenko said.

“It can’t happen in real life.”

The CBC travelled to the town of Zvenigorod, west of Moscow, to talk to people about the Navalny poisoning case. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

Navalny and his supporters have been arrested repeatedly by Russian police for organizing anti-Putin protests. He’s also been physically attacked and had corrosive green paint thrown in his face.

A video Navalny posted this week, in which he directly accused Putin of being complicit in his attempted murder, had already been viewed more than 10 million times by the time the Russian president addressed the news conference.

Nonetheless, there’s also persuasive evidence that the Kremlin’s efforts to marginalize Navalny and minimize his political impact have been effective.

A survey conducted in late October by respected independent pollster the Levada Center suggests 55 per cent of Russian respondents said they don’t believe Navalny was poisoned.

Of the one third who said they believe he had been poisoned, only a third of those said they believe the Russian state was behind it.

Public skepticism

In the days after Bellingcat’s revelations were released but before Putin spoke about them, the CBC visited the community of Zvenigorod, a town of about 15,000 people located 70 kilometres west of Moscow.

Former railway worker Alexy Provorovsky, 39, stopped to talk on his way out of church but, like many people, was reluctant to discuss the Navalny story directly.

“I don’t really want to say anything about this,” he said. “[People] are only thinking about their families and their close ones now. They only think about themselves, just to survive.”

Elena Pomina, 30, said she was only vaguely aware of the Navalny case and what might have happened to him.

“I’m not for or against him. It’s not really my business,” she said.

Younger Russians who spoke with the CBC were generally more aware of the details and more sympathetic toward Navalny.

WATCH | Putin laughs off accusations of Kremlin-controlled hit against Navalny:

Russian President Vladimir Putin laughed off damning new allegations that a Kremlin-controlled hit squad uses nerve agents to eliminate opponents, including Alexei Navalny. 1:59

Daria Generalova, an 18-year-old artist who works in a gift shop in the town, said the government’s comments that Navalny might not have been poisoned aren’t credible.

“It can’t be that a person who is healthy like this, and quite young still, that he just suddenly falls so ill,” she said.

“It’s awful. It’s even frightening, actually.”

Levada pollster Denis Volkov told a forum earlier this week that support for Putin is strongest among the older generation that still gets their news from state TV sources, while younger people who rely on the internet are far more likely to favour Kremlin outsiders, such as Navalny.

After Putin’s news conference, Navalny was sounding pleased with how his week had gone.

“Of course they can’t open a criminal case now, because this would be a criminal case against Putin,” he told host Lyubov Sobol, one of his supporters, who was broadcasting on Navalny’s YouTube channel.

“And Putin, who is the king of lies, who can lie about anything no problem, even he in this situation can’t deny that there were FSB agents that followed me.”

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CBC | World News

Canadians are accidentally poisoning themselves while cleaning to prevent COVID-19

From people experiencing burning eyes and trouble breathing to children drinking hand sanitizer, there’s been a jump in the number of cleaner and disinfectant-related accidental poisonings since the COVID-19 pandemic began, as Canadians try to keep themselves and their homes virus-free.

According to Health Canada, February and March combined showed a 58 per cent increase from the same period a year earlier in reported exposures related to cleaning products, bleaches, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, and chlorine and chloramine gases. 

Poisonings involving bleach are most common, making up 38 per cent of all calls to poison centres in March.

Health Canada posts cleaning advice including what to do in case of poisoning, online and on social media. (@GovCanHealth/Twitter)

The federal health agency attributes the increase to factors such as:

  • More cleaning products in homes as people stock up in isolation.
  • More exposure to those products as people clean and disinfect their homes more often.
  • More time spent at home — including for children.

Jim Chan has seen the effects of cleaner- and disinfectant-related poisonings firsthand over the years. 

During his 36 years as a City of Toronto public health inspector, Chan investigated cases where people unknowingly used a toxic combination of cleaning chemicals. Chan retired a few years ago and now works as a health consultant.

“One lady used a mixture of vinegar and chlorine bleach in a bucket trying to clean her counter at home and ended up in the hospital, because there was a large volume of chlorine gas being manufactured causing quite a bit of injury,” said Chan.

“In more serious cases, that could be fatal.”

Chan now has a Facebook page where people can post questions about how to clean safely. 

WATCH | Jim Chan shows what makes a cleaning mix toxic:

Longtime health inspector Jim Chan demonstrates how not to get poisoned while disinfecting your home against COVID-19. 1:15

Health Canada and the five regional poison centres from across the country — which represent all provinces and territories — provided CBC News with the most-recent numbers of reported exposure to toxic cleaning products from February and March in 2019 compared to 2020. 

During those two months, the number of exposures reported to poison centres went up from 954 in 2019 to 1,506 in 2020.

Chan thinks the number is likely higher since some people won’t report less-serious reactions to poison centres or don’t recognize the symptoms associated with cleaner-related poisonings.

Health Canada says numbers for April 2020 aren’t yet available.

Taking precautions 

Kate Wallace from Toronto has stepped up her cleaning and disinfecting methods since the novel coronavirus pandemic began, replacing her regular vinegar and water cleaner with a bleach and water mixture to disinfect. 

She’s taking precautions to keep her two young children — daughter Charlie, 2, and son Emmett, 4 — away from toxic cleaners while also trying to keep the house virus-free.

Kate Wallace reinforces the dangers of cleaning products with her kids every time she cleans her home. (Submitted by Kate Wallace)

“They’re at that age where anything could happen in a couple of minutes,” said Wallace, who makes a point of storing  cleaning supplies on a high shelf and keeping her kids at a safe distance when she’s cleaning.

She follows the guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. on how to clean and disinfect safely, including how to make a bleach solution safely — by mixing ⅓-cup bleach with 16 cups of water.

“The kids are pretty respectful of it, and I think being really consistent about the container you use as well, so they know what to look for, has really been helpful,” she said. 

Common cleaning mistakes

Chan says Canadians should make sure they take cleaning advice from reputable sources, such as government websites. 

He says the most common mistake people make is mixing bleach with vinegar or with a cleaning product that has ammonia in it, producing potentially deadly gases. Some wipes used to clean surfaces have ammonia in them, he says, so people should read labels carefully. 

WATCH | How to mix cleaning agents safely:

Jim Chan shows how some common cleaning products can be used safely to disinfect your home against the virus. 2:32

“Some labels can be very confusing,” he said. “So, make sure that it’s only bleach and water mixed together as per the CDC guidelines.”

He says the mixture should be made and used in a well-ventilated space while wearing gloves. Once surfaces are wiped down with bleach, people should leave it on for one minute and then wipe it off, Chan says.

Accidental consumption

He also warns against accidental ingestion of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. The greater the alcohol content, the greater the danger, he says. 

“Accidental consumption, especially by kids, can be quite serious, so if you have kids at home, you have to be so careful because some of the alcohol-based sanitizers smell pretty good … like fruit.”

There’s also a risk to people who clean fruits or produce with too much sanitizer or use excessive amounts on their hands before eating.

The CDC recently reported a case of a preschool-aged girl who was found unresponsive at home after ingesting an unknown amount of ethanol-based hand sanitizer. According to the report, her blood-alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit in most states.

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Opioids are poisoning prisons, prompting fears of ‘weaponization,’ study suggests

The prevalence of deadly opioids in western Canadian prisons has inmates and the officers who guard them increasingly fearful the drugs could be weaponized, a new University of Alberta study suggests.

“It is this prospect that fentanyl is being (or could be) weaponized that represents the most dramatic change fentanyl is producing in prison,” according to the study, recently published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

“Prisoners involved in upper level gang activities, or who occupied the higher ranks of organized crime groups, told us ‘not every overdose you see is actually an overdose. It’s called Mr. Murder for a reason.’ ” 

The study was the first in Canada to investigate how opioids have shaped the prison experience for inmates and altered the work of correctional officers.

Sociologists Kevin Haggerty and Sandra Bucerius interviewed 587 inmates and 131 correctional officers in four prisons, including two remand centres. 

Despite efforts to keep them out of correctional institutions, drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil are readily available and pervade almost every aspect of prison life.

“This came about inadvertently,” Haggerty said in an interview Tuesday with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM. “When we started out, we were interested in whether there was radicalization in prisons.

“What we heard is radicalization is not a problem. This is a problem.” 

Prisoners told researchers they were increasingly concerned about the prospect of overdosing, the study said. The extreme potency of fentanyl and carfentanil means users can overdose on small amounts and the opioids are often mixed into other street drugs.

Most survey participants told researchers the opioids they purchase are often mixed with baby powder, powdered sugar or other street drugs. 

You smoke a joint or something, and now you’re all fentied out.– Inmate

“For the inmates, the real concern is overdoses and poor mixing practices, so they don’t know what they’re taking. You’re seeing a lot more overdoses,” Haggerty said.

“And then that spills over into the world of correctional officers, who are concerned about inadvertent exposure and concerned about what this is doing to the job.”

‘Anything can be laced’

One inmate told the researchers, “it’s everywhere. It’s in your cocaine. It’s everywhere. They’re sprinkling it on pot … . It’s because it’s addictive. You smoke a joint or something, and now you’re all fentied out.” 

Some inmates were concerned that even their food could be laced. About 10 per cent of those interviewed refused to consume anything but pre-packaged food. 

“You don’t know what’s in that bag of chips, you know?” one inmate said. “You can’t trust no one anymore. Anything can be laced.”

Adding to the overdose risk was the perception that prison is a relatively safe place to consume drugs, since officers are equipped with naloxone and monitor prisoners for overdose symptoms.

“You take turns,” said one inmate. “Your buddy uses and you watch, and then you use and your buddy watches. Kind of like spotting at the gym.”

Prisons do not release statistics on overdoses, but the study suggests that in a given month on a particular prison unit — typically housing between 50 and 80 inmates — overdoses ranged from zero to nine, depending on the facility. 

The prevalence of opioids is also taking a toll on correctional officers, the study said. 

Fear of personal exposure to the drug and the trauma of repeatedly resuscitating inmates has made the work more daunting. 

About one-third of the officers interviewed said they are considering leaving their jobs because of the perceived risks. 

“It’s like in two weeks, I’ve probably seen three or four blue bodies come back to life, because of Narcan,” one guard recounted. “They were shot three or four times. I’ve done chest compressions on a guy who was vomiting all over himself.”

The study raises questions about how well Canadian prisons are equipped to deal with the ongoing epidemic. The research suggests programs that focus on harm reduction may be the answer, Haggerty said.   

“There are going to be people who are going to continue to use, so we need to think about ways we can manage that addiction,” Haggerty said. 

“Crisis presents opportunities, because clearly there are concerns about people’s health and people are dying.”

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Batch of Pacific oysters recalled due to threat of paralytic shellfish poisoning

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is recalling certain varieties of Pacific oysters harvested earlier this week in B.C.

The agency says the oysters may be unsafe due to the presence of a marine biotoxin that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning when eaten.

The recall applies to farm-raised oysters harvested on July 14 under the brand name Union Bay Seafood Ltd., which is based in Richmond, B.C.

The affected products include:

  • Pacific oysters, Mica’s Petite Effingham Inlet (five-dozen packs)
  • Pacific oysters, Effingham Inlet Xs (five-dozen packs)
  • Oyster N/Shell Effingham XSM (five-dozen packs)

The oysters are distributed in B.C., Alberta and Ontario.

Symptoms can appear within a few minutes or up to 10 hours after consumption. They include tingling and numbness of the lips, tongue, hands and feet, and difficulty swallowing. 

Severe symptoms include difficulty walking, muscle paralysis, respiratory paralysis and death.

The agency says the recall was triggered by test results and no illnesses have been reported. It says recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the store where they were purchased.

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New report calls for 'urgent action' over mercury poisoning of Grassy Narrows youth, mothers

A new report shows mercury poisoning of the English-Wabigoon river system is having serious, detrimental effects on the health of youth and mothers in Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows First Nation).

The second part of the Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek Community Health Assessment Report — which focuses on children and youth — was released today at a media conference at Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

It recommends the creation of a learning centre, which could both provide healthy food to women, including those who are pregnant, and educate them about the dangers associated with mercury poisoning. Also included in the report's recommendations is the creation of emergency and long-term programs for children and youth, which would focus on emergency and crisis counselling, and improved medical and neuropsychological assessment and therapy.

The report was compiled through a survey of more than 170 questions, filled out for 353 Grassy Narrows youth, and results show consumption of fish from the English-Wabigoon river system, particularly during pregnancy, is the cause of health issues among the community's youth.

While the health of 78 per cent of girls and 70 per cent of boys in the community is rated very good or thriving, a number of chronic health conditions were diagnosed. They include:

  • Mental health, emotional and behavioural problems
  • Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Learning disabilities
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Eczema or dermatitis
  • Language or speech disorders
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Anemia
  • Visual problems requiring glasses
  • Ear infections

The report notes that while many of these issues are also experienced by youth in other First Nation communities in Canada, youth in Grassy Narrows are demonstrating "a higher prevalence of the chronic conditions and emotional and behavioural issues that are associated with maternal fish consumption during pregnancy."

Grassy Narrows is located about 100 kilometres northeast of Kenora. Former owners of a mill, located upstream from the community, in Dryden, dumped industrial effluent containing mercury into the English-Wabigoon river system in the 1960s and 1970s.

Ontario has committed $ 85 million to clean up the river, while Ottawa has said it will fund a treatment centre.

Further, the report states, children whose maternal grandfather had been a fishing guide exhibit a higher likelihood of being in the care of Child and Family Services.

The report goes on to connect the consumption of fish from the English-Wabigoon river system to many of the diagnosed chronic health conditions.

For example, women who ate at least one fish meal per month during pregnancy were twice and likely to have maternal health problems during pregnancy. Those could include high blood pressure, or gestational diabetes.

The report notes that "this finding is independent of 'drinking a lot or taking drugs during pregnancy.'"

Further, youth whose mothers consumed one fish meal a month during pregnancy were two times more likely to have visual problems, and three times more likely to have chronic ear infections when compared to youth whose mothers hardly or never ate fish during pregnancy.

Children of women who at fish once a week or more during pregnancy, meanwhile, are:

  • Twice as likely to have visual problems
  • Three times as likely to have chronic ear infections or overall, general health issues
  • Four times as likely to have a learning disability, a condition that affects school performance, and at least one nervous system disorder.

These results, too, are independent of other possible determinants, like age, health problems, or difficulties during childbirth.

The report also notes that "fishing and fish consumption have been traditional and cultural practices of the people of Grassy Narrows for hundreds, if not thousands, of years."

The report makes several recommendations, including creating programs that would provide emergency counselling and crisis intervention for youth, which would be overseen by a full-time child psychologist, a traditional counsellor, and elders.

The report also calls for medical and neuropsychological assessment and therapy for youth in the community, and an increased awareness of the effects of mercury poisoning among teachers, principals, health care professionals, and social workers.

The report also recommends the creation of a learning centre, which would raise awareness of mercury poisoning and its effects, and provide nutritious meals for women who are of child-bearing age, or who are pregnant.

A similar report focusing on adults in the community was released earlier this year. It showed only 21 per cent of people in Grassy Narrows reported their health as being "good or excellent," compared to 40 per cent in other Ontario First Nation communities, and 60 per cent of non-Indigenous people in Canada.

That report also showed people diagnosed with mercury poisoning were more likely to have a neuropsychological disorder, stomach and intestinal problems, hearing loss, joint pain, or blindness or vision problems.

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Salisbury poisoning suspect named as a Russian colonel by U.K. media

The real identity of one of the men wanted by Britain for the Salisbury nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter is Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga, according to media reports on Wednesday that described him as a decorated Russian colonel.

Earlier this month, British prosecutors charged two Russians — Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — with attempted murder for the Novichok poisoning of the Skripals in the southern English city in March but said they believed the suspects had been using aliases to enter Britain.

The Daily Telegraph and the BBC said Boshirov's real name was Chepiga, citing investigative reporting by Bellingcat, a website covering intelligence matters. Two European security sources familiar with the Skripal investigation said the details were accurate.

Russia denies any involvement in the poisoning, and the two men have said they were merely tourists who had flown to London for fun and visited Salisbury to see its cathedral.

'Reckless use of chemical weapons'

The British government knows both their real identities, sources close to the investigation have said.

The Telegraph reported that Chepiga, 39, had served in wars in Chechnya and Ukraine, and was made a Hero of the Russian Federation by decree of President Vladimir Putin in 2014.

British police, who are investigating the poisoning, and the Foreign Office declined to comment on the report. But British defence minister Gavin Williamson appeared to confirm its veracity on Twitter.

Police officers stand outside the City Stay Hotel used by Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who have been accused of attempting to murder former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in London. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

"The true identity of one of the Salisbury suspects has been revealed to be a Russian Colonel. I want to thank all the people who are working so tirelessly on this case," Williamson said in a tweet, which was later deleted without explanation.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May did not address the reports directly in a speech to the United Nations in New York, but spoke of "the reckless use of chemical weapons on the streets of Britain by agents of the Russian GRU (military intelligence)."

The Russian Embassy in London was not immediately available to comment. The Kremlin has previously said that the suspects have nothing to do with Putin.

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Poisoning of Russian-Canadian Pussy Riot member 'highly plausible,' doctors say

German doctors treating Pyotr Verzilov, a Russian-Canadian member of the protest group Pussy Riot, said Tuesday that claims he was poisoned are "highly plausible," but stressed they can't say how this might have occurred or who was responsible.

Dr. Kai-Uwe Eckardt of Berlin's Charite hospital told reporters that Verzilov has been receiving intensive care since arriving in Berlin from Moscow on Saturday, but his condition isn't life threatening.

Verzilov's symptoms, together with information received from relatives and the Moscow hospital he was admitted to last week, "make it highly plausible that a poisoning took place," Eckardt said.

By contrast, he said, Charite doctors have found "no evidence whatsoever that there would be another explanation for his condition."

Kai-Uwe Eckhardt, medical director of the Charite clinic for internistic intensive care in Berlin, said it is "highly plausible" that Verzilov was poisoned. (Michael Sohn/Associated Press)

Eckardt said Verzilov fell ill on Sept. 11 after attending a friend's court hearing in the Russian capital, and was admitted to a Moscow hospital that evening with symptoms that included disorientation and widened pupils. Russian doctors suspected possible poisoning and treated him accordingly, emptying his stomach and performing a dialysis, said Eckardt.

He said the symptoms indicate Verzilov, who arrived in Germany by private medevac Saturday, is suffering from an anticholinergic syndrome that can result from the disruption of the nervous system that regulates the inner organs.

Cause still not known

While doctors in Berlin haven't yet determined what was responsible for the poisoning, they said it could have resulted from various substances, including high doses of some pharmaceuticals and plants that contain particular toxins.

Dr. Karl Max Einhaeupl, the Charite hospital's chairman, said doctors wanted to "refrain completely from all speculation about what made these problems happen."

While he wouldn't rule out that recreational drugs were responsible for the poisoning, he said such drug use is very rare.

"We have no evidence that there is a drug problem and it would be very unusual for someone to take a drug in the dose that it was taken," he said. "That would be done with suicidal intent, but we have no indications of this."

Watch: Justin Trudeau discusses Verzilov's hospitalization

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters in Saskatoon on Thursday 0:50

Eckardt, who heads the Charite's intensive-care department, said he expects Verzilov to make a full recovery and hopefully suffer no permanent damage.

He said Verzilov is already communicating with doctors, but so far they haven't been able to question him in detail about his medical history.

Verzilov, who has Canadian citizenship, and other members of the Pussy Riot group served 15-day jail sentences for disrupting July's World Cup final to protest excessive Russian police powers.

A fellow member of Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, told reporters at a separate news conference in Berlin on Tuesday that Verzilov was "one of the most effective activists that Russia has ever seen."

She said Verzilov would likely return to Moscow once he recovers.

Verzilov is pulled off the pitch after he stormed onto the field and interrupted the final match between France and Croatia at the 2018 World Cup. (Martin MeissneréAssociated Press)

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Russians accused of poisoning ex-spy say they were in Salisbury as tourists

Two Russians appeared on state television on Thursday, saying they had been wrongly accused by Britain of trying to murder a former Russian spy and his daughter in England and had been visiting Salisbury in March for tourism.

British prosecutors last week identified two Russians they said were operating under aliases — Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — whom they accused of trying to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal with a military-grade nerve agent in England.

The two men who appeared on Russia's state-funded RT television station had some physical similarities to the men shown in British police images.

"Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town," one of the men said of the English town of Salisbury in a short clip of the interview played by RT.

They said they may have approached Sergei Skripal's house by chance, but did not know where it was located. They had stayed less than hour in Salisbury, they said, because of bad weather.

Intelligence officers?

Britain has said the two suspects were officers with a Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU, and were almost certainly acting on orders from high up in the Russian state. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in the case.

Skripal — a former Russian military intelligence colonel who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain's MI6 foreign intelligence service — and his daughter were found slumped unconscious on a bench in Salisbury in March. They spent weeks in hospital before being discharged.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal survived the poisonings after lengthy stays in hospital. (Misha Japaridze/AP; Yulia Skripal/Facebook via AP)

The two men said they did not work for GRU, were ordinary businessmen, and the victim of what they called "a fantastical coincidence."

The duo surfaced a day after President Vladimir Putin said Russia had located Petrov and Boshirov, but that there was nothing special or criminal about them. He expressed hope they would come forward and speak publicly.

The Skripals' poisoning triggered a tense diplomatic showdown. Britain and more than two dozen other countries expelled a total of 150 Russian diplomats, and Russia kicked out a similar number of those countries' envoys.
The affair returned to the headlines in July when a woman near Salisbury, Dawn Sturgess, died and her partner, Charlie Rowley, fell ill after Rowley found a counterfeit bottle of perfume containing the Novichok nerve agent and brought it home.

With files from The Associated Press

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Britain charges 2 Russians over nerve-agent poisoning of ex-spy and daughter

British officials said Wednesday they have charged two Russian men with the nerve-agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury — though they held out little hope of being able to bring the suspects to justice.

The men, who entered the country under the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, were charged in absentia with conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and use of the nerve agent Novichok, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

The two men are said to have entered the country two days before the Skripals were poisoned 0:52

The U.K. is not asking Moscow to extradite the men because Russian law forbids extradition of the country's citizens, prosecutor Sue Hemming said Wednesday.

Britain has issued a European arrest warrant for the two, meaning they could be detained if they leave Russia for another European country. But assistant police commissioner Neil Basu conceded it was "very, very unlikely" police would be in a position to arrest them any time soon.

The men, both about 40, flew from Moscow to London on Russian passports two days before the Skripals were poisoned on March 4, police said. Basu said the passports were genuine but the men were probably using aliases, and appealed the public "to come forward and tell us who they are."

Sergei Skripal — a former Russian agent who had been convicted in his homeland of spying for Britain — and his daughter were found collapsed on a bench in the cathedral city of Salisbury, 140 kilometres southwest of London. They spent weeks hospitalized in critical condition and are now recovering in a secret location for their own protection.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia survived nerve-agent poisoning in Britain after spending weeks in hospital. Although Moscow has denied any involvement in the attack, two Russian men have been charged. (Misha Japaridze/AP; Yulia Skripal/Facebook via AP)

British authorities and the international chemical weapons watchdog say the Skripals were exposed to Novichok, a type of military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

British officials have blamed the Russian government for the poisoning, a charge the Kremlin has denied. The poisoning ignited a diplomatic confrontation in which hundreds of envoys were expelled by both Russia and Western nations.

Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov are seen at Salisbury train station on March 3 in an image taken from CCTV. British prosecutors have charged the two Russian men with the nerve-agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. (Metropolitan Police via Associated Press)

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Wednesday that Moscow has no knowledge of the two suspects, saying their names and photos "say nothing to us."

Zakharova called on Britain to co-operate with Russian law enforcement agencies on the investigation. She has criticized London for turning down Moscow's request to see the case files.

Diplomatic fallout

Police on Wednesday gave new details about what Basu called "one of the most complex investigations" the force had ever seen.

Police released a series of images of the men as they travelled through London and Salisbury between March 2 and  March 4. Police say the two men took a flight back to Moscow from Heathrow Airport on the evening of March 4, hours after the Skripals were found collapsed on a park bench in Salisbury.

Police believe the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals was smuggled to Britain in a counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle and applied to the front door of Sergei Skripal's house.

Dawn Sturgess died after being exposed to the nerve agent Novichok, and her partner Charlie Rowley was hospitalized. British authorities have yet to lay charges in that incident. (Metropolitan Police via AP)

More than three months later, the bottle was found by a local man, Charlie Rowley. He was hospitalized and his girlfriend Dawn Sturgess died after being exposed to the contents.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed Tuesday that Rowley and Sturgess were also exposed to Novichok.

Police are still trying to determine where the bottle was between the Skripal poisoning in March and its discovery by Rowley on June 27. As a result, Basu said, police are not yet ready to bring charges in the second poisoning.

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British police believe, but can't yet prove, Novichok death connected to Skripal poisoning

British police said Monday they believe the latest victims of poisoning by a nerve agent must have handled the material's container and been subjected to a "high dose" of the lethal poison.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said the death of 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess on Sunday shows that she and partner Charlie Rowley, 45, were exposed to a large quantity of Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent produced in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Basu said the working theory is their exposure was linked to the earlier Novichok attack in March on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, who have both survived despite extended hospitalizations.

But, Basu said, investigators are not yet able to make the forensic link between the incidents.

Britain has blamed Russia for the poisonings, but Moscow has strongly denied any involvement.

The wide investigation is now a homicide inquiry. Basu expressed sorrow for the death of Sturgess, who had three children.

"Her death has only served to strengthen the resolve of the investigations team."

He said the immediate police priority is to find any container that may be the source of the Novichok.

Several people screened, cleared

He said no one else in the Amesbury and Salisbury region where the couple lived in southwestern England has shown any sign of Novichok poisoning, with over 20 people who had specifically screened for Novichok exposure cleared.

More than 100 police are working to try and search all areas where Sturgess and Rowley had been before they became ill nine days ago. The search is focused on their homes and a park in Salisbury.

Rowley remains in critical condition in a Salisbury hospital.

Britain blames the Russian state for the attack on Sergei Skripal and 33-year-old Yulia — an allegation Moscow has repeatedly denied.

A Kremlin spokesperson Monday expressed condolences over Sturgess's death.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Moscow "is deeply concerned" over the poisoning cases in Britain. Peskov added that such attacks present a danger not only inside the U.K., but also in Europe as a whole.

Peskov said that linking Russia to the poisoning would be "absurd."

Asked whether the death could cloud the upcoming U.S.-Russia summit in Helsinki next week, Peskov replied that the poisoning "has no relation" to the meeting. He said, "It's Britain's problem and the problem of how interested Britain is in a real investigation."

Moscow says London has declined its offers for a joint investigation into the poisonings.

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