Germany said today it has 'unequivocal proof' that Russian dissident Alexei Navalny was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok.
Tests carried out at a military laboratory found evidence of the Soviet-era chemical weapon that was used to attack Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018.
Navalny, 44, remains in a coma in a Berlin hospital nearly two weeks after collapsing on a plane in Siberia, which made an emergency landing when he suddenly fell ill.
Germany today condemned the 'alarming' poison plot and demanded an urgent explanation from Moscow, which has denied any involvement in the anti-Putin campaigner's illness.
'With this, it is certain that Alexei Navalny is the victim of a crime," Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "He was meant to be silenced and I condemn this in the strongest possible manner."
"There are very serious questions now that only the Russian government can answer, and must answer," Merkel said, who described what happened to Navalny as "the attempted murder by poisoning of one of Russia's leading opposition figures.'
While Berlin stopped short of accusing Russia directly, Navalny's aide Ivan Zhdanov said Novichok 'can only be used by the state' - suggesting that the GRU or FSB intelligence agencies were responsible.
Navalny being taken to an ambulance in Omsk (left) after falling ill on a plane following a trip to an airport cafe (right) where his friends suspect he could have been poisoned
"With this, it is certain that Alexei Navalny is the victim of a crime," Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "He was meant to be silenced and I condemn this in the strongest possible manner."
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny - pictured, centre, shortly before he fell ill on August 20 - is in a coma at a German hospital after allegedly being poisoned
Forensic police officers wearing hazmat suits examine evidence in Salisbury days after the assassination attempt against Sergei Skripal in March 2018
The Novichok family of nerve agents were secretly developed over two decades at a research facility 50 miles outside the Russian capital.
Many times more potent than other better known chemical weapons, Novichok agents can render gas masks and protective equipment useless.
Sometimes described as 'gases' they are in fact liquid, intended to be delivered as a fine spray.
A series of poisons, known as Novichok 5, 7, 8 and 9 to identify them, were produced amid conditions of complete secrecy.
They all kill the same way. By inhibiting enzymes that control nerve receptors in the brain.
One expert said victims simply 'forget to breathe'. A tiny drop, almost undetectable, placed on the skin or inhaled can cause death within minutes.
Germany says it will inform its partners in the EU and Nato about the test results and consult with them 'on an appropriate joint response'.
Russia's ambassador in Berlin will also be called in to hear about the results - after the Kremlin played down preliminary findings that Navalny was poisoned.
Friends of Navalny have suggested his tea was spiked in an airport cafe in Tomsk where he was pictured shortly before boarding the flight.
A former Soviet scientist separately suggested that assassins could have broken into Navalny's hotel room and sprinkled poison on his clothes.
After Navalny fell ill, the aircraft made an emergency landing in Omsk and he was initially taken to hospital in the Siberian city.
The following weekend he was airlifted to Berlin, where doctors at the Charite hospital have been treating him with the antidote atropine and keeping him in a medically induced coma.
The hospital said in an initial statement last week that clinical tests 'indicate poisoning with a substance from the group of cholinesterase inhibitors', which are used in medicines and insecticides but also in nerve agents.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week that allegations of Kremlin involvement 'absolutely cannot be true and are rather an empty noise'.
Peskov accused the German medics of 'rushing' to use the word poisoning, saying: 'For the moment, all you and I see is that the patient is in a coma.'
'We don't understand why our German colleagues are in such a hurry. The substance hasn't yet been established,' he told reporters.
But Germany's announcement today said that toxicological tests at an army laboratory had found 'unequivocal evidence' of a nerve agent in the 'Novichok family'.
The military specialists were called in at the request of Charite hospital medics, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
Angela Merkel and her top ministers discussed the findings this afternoon and the government says it 'condemns this attack in the strongest terms'.
Germany will also contact the Organisation for the