Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied involvement in the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, saying during an annual press conference that the opposition leader would be dead if the Russian state had wanted to kill him.
An investigation by Bellingcat and several other media outlets earlier this week identified and linked an elite FSB intelligence unit to the Aug 9 poisoning of Mr Navalny, which left him in coma for weeks.
Phone records and flight manifests indicate that a team of eight Russian agents were in close contact with the 44-year-old politician, with three of them trailing him for days.
Speaking at his annual marathon press conference on Thursday, President Putin, who referred to Mr Navalny as a "patient of a Berlin clinic", said that that the investigation was simply "laundering" data and materials of Western intelligence agencies, alleging that Mr Navalny may have ties to foreign intelligence.
"If that is true, then of course, our agents should keep an eye on him," President Putin said. While indirectly confirming Bellingcat's findings about the Russian agents following Mr Navalny's every move, the Russian leader rejected accusations that the Russian state was out there to kill him.
"That doesn't mean one should poison him. Who is he to bother with?" Mr Putin said with a chuckle. "Anyway, if we had wanted to poison him, we probably would have finished the job."
He did not answer the journalist's question about why there is still no criminal inquiry into the attempted murder.
Mr Navalny, who is still convalescing in Germany after an initially speedy recovery, fell suddenly ill on a plane from Siberia to Moscow in August.
Several European laboratories have confirmed that his blood had traces of the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, which was also used in the 2018 Salisbury poisoning of former Soviet spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.