Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected allegations the Kremlin was behind the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Speaking via video call on Thursday, he accused US intelligence agencies of stoking the claims.
Mr Putin also voiced hopes the administration of president-elect Joe Biden will move to extend the last remaining US-Russian arms control pact that is set to expire in early February.
The Russian leader countered the accusations by saying that if the Kremlin wanted to poison Mr Navalny it would have pressed home the attack.
With a chuckle, he added: “If there was such a desire, it would have been done.”
Mr Navalny fell ill on August 20 during a domestic flight in Russia and was flown in a coma to Germany for treatment two days later.
Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established Russia’s opposition leader was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.
Mr Navalny and his allies have repeatedly accused the Kremlin of the poisoning.
Russian authorities have vehemently denied any involvement in the poisoning.
On Monday, the investigative group Bellingcat and Russian outlet The Insider released a report alleging that operatives from the FSB, Russia’s domestic security agency which is a top KGB successor, had followed Mr Navalny during his trips since 2017,
It said FSB agents “specialised training in chemical weapons, chemistry and medicine” and “were in the vicinity of the opposition activist in the days and hours of the time-range during which he was poisoned”.
The investigation, conducted in co-operation with CNN and Der Spiegel, identified the supposed FSB operatives and poison laboratories after analysing telephone metadata and flight information.
It mentioned two instances in 2019 and 2020, in which Mr Navalny or his wife Yulia suffered from unexplained symptoms.
Mr Navalny said the investigation proves beyond doubt that FSB operatives tried to kill him on Mr Putin’s orders.
In his first comment since the report’s publication, Mr Putin charged that the new report relied on the data provided by US spy agencies, even though its authors have denied any link to American or any other Western intelligence services.
“It’s not some kind of investigation, it’s just the legalisation of materials provided by US special services,” he said, adding it means Mr Navalny “relies on the support of U.S. special services”.
“It’s curious, and in that case, special services indeed need to keep an eye on him,” Mr Putin said.
“But that doesn’t mean that there is a need to poison him, who would need that?”
He alleged Mr Navalny is accusing the Kremlin of ordering to poison him in to raise his political profile as the top opposition figure.
As before, Mr Putin refrained from mentioning Mr Navalny by name, referring to him as a “blogger” and the “Berlin patient”.
Mr Navalny tweeted after the news conference that Putin effectively confirmed the investigative report proving the FSB was shadowing him for nearly four years.
“It’s impossible to deny our concrete proof,” he said.
Even as Mr Putin accused US spy agencies, he held the door open for co-operation with the incoming administration.
He congratulated Mr Biden on his victory earlier this week.
“We proceed from the assumption that the newly elected US president would realise what’s going on,” he said.
“He’s quite experienced in both domestic and foreign policies, and we hope that the problems that have emerged, at least some of them, would be solved under the new administration.”
Mr Putin said Russia remains ready to extend the last remaining US-Russian nuclear arms control pact still standing, the New START, which expires in early February.
He added the deal’s demise would “leave no restrictions on weapons systems”.
Mr Putin has reaffirmed Russian denials of meddling in the 2016 vote to help Donald Trump win.
Asked if Russia would offer Mr Trump political asylum and a job after he steps down, Mr Putin responded “Trump doesn’t need a job”.
He added: “He has quite a broad base of support in the United States and, as far as I understand, he has no intention to leave the country’s politics.”