A German journalist who used to work for Russia's state-controlled television channel RT says he was asked by his employer to spy on Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny while he was undergoing treatment in Germany after being poisoned in Siberia.
Daniel Lange has described to German media how he was instructed to use his journalistic credentials to test how close he could get to the ward where Navalny was recovering in Berlin's Charite hospital and "carefully take photos of the extensive military presence" at the medical facility.
Lange told RFE/RL on March 11 that his assignment "made no [journalistic] sense" and eventually prompted him to break his contract with RT Deutsch -- the German branch of the state-controlled outlet.
Lange has said that he and a colleague were tasked with testing how far they could get inside the Charite building, how many “checkpoints” they could cross undetected, and how close they could get to Navalny in the intensive care unit without being noticed.
“I stated several times that I was not a secret agent and asked what they would do with me in Russia if I secretly photographed soldiers in front of a military hospital. Then there was always no answer or reaction and a new assignment followed," Lange told RFE/RL.
Lange says that he deliberately drew attention to himself while at the hospital, telling the police there that he was a journalist with "RT from Russia." He says he was then given another assignment: keeping an eye on Navalny’s chief of staff Leonid Volkov and Navalny's head of investigations, Maria Pevchikh.
"Finding the whereabouts of Volkov based on a photo from an apartment was not only ridiculous...it also made no journalistic sense," Lange told RFE/RL. “Volkov was not hidden in Berlin and gave interviews. If you had wanted an interview with him, you would have made an official request or bought video material from an agency."
Lange also told RFE/RL that he and his cameraman were instructed by the outlet's new management to "show all the filth of Germany," not in reports but in short clips.
"I was now commissioned directly to show only those pictures that show a negative image of Germany," he said. "Not an extensive report on the heroin scene in Berlin, but a clip that shows junkies and misery and does not explain anything or inform the viewer. That's when I made the decision to go, and also to report on how it goes behind the scenes."
RT said on March 10 that it intends to sue the German tabloid Bild, where Lange first made his allegations.
Announcing its lawsuit against Bild, RT hinted that the allegations could be part of a campaign against the Russian television network in Germany.
Lange this week published a book -- titled Inside RT Deutsch: Putin’s Media Army In Germany -- in which he recalls his two years of working for the outlet. The book includes the story about RT’s alleged attempt to spy on Navalny.
The Kremlin critic was arrested on January 17 upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he received life-saving treatment from a nerve-agent poisoning while traveling in Siberia in August.
Navalny has insisted that his poisoning was ordered directly by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The FSB security service and the Kremlin have denied any role in the poisoning.
Last month, a Moscow court ruled that, while in Germany, Navalny had violated the terms of parole from an old embezzlement case that is widely considered to be politically motivated. Navalny's 3 1/2-year suspended sentence from the case was converted to a jail term, though the court said he will serve 2 1/2 years in prison given time already served in detention.