MOSCOW: Opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Tuesday he was able to breathe unaided in his first public comments after his suspected poisoning in Siberia, while his aide said he planned to return to Russia once recovered.

The 44-year-old lawyer and outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin fell severely ill on August 20 on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow after a trip to support opposition candidates in local elections.

Germany said there was “unequivocal evidence” that Russia’s most prominent opposition figure was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent but Moscow has angrily dismissed the findings, saying its doctors found no trace of poison.

“Hello, this is Navalny,” he wrote in a post on Instagram, appearing with his wife and two children in the Berlin hospital where he was flown for treatment after falling ill.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

Wearing a hospital gown, he looked gaunt and barely smiled while his wife Yulia beamed next to him.

“Yesterday I was able to breathe on my own all day,” he wrote.

“It’s an amazing process and underestimated by many. I recommend it,” joked Navalny, who has 1.8 million followers on Instagram. “I miss you,” he told his supporters.

The anti-corruption campaigner’s suspected poisoning has sparked sharp condemnation from Western leaders who have called for a thorough investigation and those responsible to be brought to justice.

Germany said on Monday that French and Swedish labs had independently confirmed findings by doctors in Berlin that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok.

Navalny’s allies say the use of the banned chemical weapon means that only the Russian state could be responsible.

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said separately that the opposition leader planned to return to Russia. “No other option has ever been considered,” she said.

Russia has angrily dismissed Germany’s findings, saying its doctors found no trace of poison when Navalny was first taken to hospital in Siberia and Putin this week dismissed “unsubstantiated claims” over his top critic’s illness.

The director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Naryshkin, on Tuesday reiterated that Russian doctors had found no evidence that Navalny was poisoned. “Therefore, we have many questions for the German side,” Naryshkin told reporters.

He instead said that medics in the Siberian city of Omsk had carried out robust tests and saved the opposition leader’s life.

He added that Russia had destroyed stockpiles of Novichok, a Soviet-designed nerve agent, and said allegations Russia stored the chemical weapon amounted to “disinformation”.