Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has blamed President Vladimir Putin for the poisoning in August that nearly took his life and vowed to return home to continue his anti-corruption campaign.
In his first interview since falling ill after ingesting what international experts say was a Soviet-style nerve agent from the Novichok group while he was in Siberia, the 44-year-old longtime Kremlin critic told the German publication Der Spiegel that his health continues to improve since being released from a Berlin hospital on September 22 after spending 32 days in the clinic, including 24 days in an intensive care unit.
"I will not give Putin the gift of not returning to Russia," he said in the interview published on October 1, adding that for him, "Putin is behind this act. I don't see any other explanation."
Meanwhile, the Kremlin on October 1 accused Navalny of collaborating with the CIA. The accusation leveled by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov appears to be the first time that Moscow has directly accused Navalny of working with a foreign intelligence agency.
In response, Navalny challenged Peskov to present evidence to back up his accusation and said he would sue him over the accusation. His aide, Lyubov Sobol, called the allegation "complete gibberish."
Navalny collapsed aboard a flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20 and spent nearly three weeks in an induced coma.
After 48 hours in a hospital in Omsk, where Russian doctors said they found no trace of any poisoning, Navalny was transferred to the Charite hospital in the German capital.
Doctors there found traces of a Novichok-like nerve agent in his body. Their findings were independently confirmed by labs in France and Sweden, sparking international condemnation.
The Kremlin has firmly denied allegations of involvement and accused Western leaders of launching a disinformation campaign over Navalny's illness.
Peskov on October 1 said Navalny's accusations were unacceptable, groundless, and insulting.
"It's not the patient working with Western intelligence, it's Western intelligence working with him. That would be more accurate. There is such information. I can even say definitely -- specialists of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency are working with him currently," Peskov said.
In response, Navalny wrote on his website: "Firstly, I am suing Peskov."
"And secondly, I demand the publication of proof and facts, demonstrating my 'work with CIA specialists'. Show it on television at prime time. You have my permission."
Just hours after the publication of Navalny's interview, the chairman of the Russian parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin also accused Navalny of working on behalf of Western countries and said Putin, Russian doctors, and the pilots who acted quickly to get him back on the ground were the ones who saved his life.
Only "a shameless person" could say otherwise, Volodin said, the Interfax news agency reported on October 1.
Amid allegations from Navalny's allies that Kremlin agents had poisoned him, the Russian government has resisted international pressure to launch a criminal investigation.
The Kremlin has said it has seen no evidence of poisoning and has demanded that Germany, France, and Sweden share their findings.
Der Speigel noted that when Navalny tries to perform a simple task such as pouring a glass of water, "it clearly takes a lot of effort," and that he needed to use both hands.
It said Navalny seemed more nervous than at previous meetings with the publication's writers, with his face narrower and his body more wiry.
Navalny shrugged off his physical state, saying it was "important" that the interview appears in the German press because the country "saved my life."
"I feel immensely grateful to all Germans. I know that sounds a bit pathetic now, but Germany has become a special country for me. I barely had a connection here I was only in Berlin for the first time three years ago! And then so much human concern, from so many people," he said.
He added that while his physical state is still recovering, "the most important thing is that my mental abilities have returned."