The Kremlin has called reports that Russian opposition figure Aleksei Navalny, who Germany and other Western governments say was poisoned with a nerve agent, ingested the substance via a water bottle in his hotel room in Siberia "absurd."
Navalny's team says a water bottle removed from his hotel room in the city of Tomsk after he fell critically ill last month had been taken to Germany and found to have traces of a Soviet-style nerve agent from the Novichok chemical group.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov refuted the claim on September 18, questioning its veracity because the bottle was taken out of Russia when a stricken Navalny was airlifted to a hospital in Berlin for treatment.
"The thing is that we're being told about traces of Novichok on a bottle, but specialists say that, if there were actually traces of Novichok on the bottle, at least those who touched it or were standing nearby would have been exposed," Peskov said.
"This goes against the conclusions drawn by experts. If there was a bottle, then why was it taken away? Perhaps someone has no interest in holding an investigation.There is too much in this story that is absurd, which keeps us from believing these statements without proof," he added.
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 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 Novichok nerve agent.
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.
According to Navalny's associates, one of his team members, who is a permanent resident of the United Kingdom, later took the bottle to Germany and traces of Novichok were found on it.
Germany has demanded that Russia explain the incident, but Moscow has vehemently denied any involvement and has pressed Berlin to share the evidence that led to the verdict Navalny was poisoned.
Peskov on September 18 reiterated Moscow's previous statements, saying that "the only way to get answers about the situation is an information exchange" between Germany and Russia.
With reporting by Interfax and TASS