© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally in Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Half of Russians believe that Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was either not poisoned, as he and Western governments contend, or that his poisoning was stage-managed by Western intelligence services, a poll showed on Thursday.

The poll, released by the Levada-Center, shows how hard it remains for Navalny to shape public opinion in Russia even as his case attracts wide media attention in the West and his own slickly-produced videos of what happened to him this summer rack up millions of views online.

Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critics, was airlifted to Germany for medical treatment in August after collapsing on a plane in Russia. Germany has said he was poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent in an attempt to murder him, an assertion many Western nations accept.

A joint media investigation last week named agents from Russia’s FSB security service it said were behind the plot to kill him. Navalny on Monday released a recording of him speaking by phone to a man he described as a state security agent who told him, among other things, that the poison had been placed in his underpants.

The FSB has called that recording a fake designed to discredit it, however, and has said that foreign intelligence services helped Navalny make it while the Kremlin has mocked Navalny and tried to call his sanity into question.

The poll by Levada, which is regarded as more independent than state counterparts, showed only 15% of Russians believed what happened to Navalny was an attempt by the authorities to rid themselves of a political opponent.

By contrast, 30% thought that the incident was stage-managed and that there was no poisoning, and 19% said they believed it was a provocation orchestrated by Western intelligence services.

The same poll, which canvassed 1,617 Russians aged 18 or older, showed that 7% thought it was revenge by someone he had targeted in one of his anti-corruption investigations.

Denis Volkov, Levada’s deputy director, said the results showed a split in opinion between older and younger Russians, whom Navalny has targeted with high-profile online investigations and by speaking to them directly in live internet broadcasts.

“Older generations receiving news on TV and trusting TV news, and supporters of the authorities mostly consider what happened as a stage-managed event and provocation of the West,” Volkov wrote on Facebook (NASDAQ:).

“Young people, active internet users and critics of the authorities are much more likely to blame Russian authorities for the poisoning,” he said.

Navalny is still convalescing in Germany, but has said he wants to return to Russia.

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