The Kremlin on Monday condemned “absurd” attempts to hold Russia responsible for the alleged poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny as Europe ponders whether to impose sanctions.
Navalny, a 44-year-old anti-corruption activist and one of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, fell ill on a domestic flight last month and was treated in a Siberian hospital before being evacuated to Berlin.
Germany said last week there was “clear evidence” that Navalny was poisoned with novichok, the same substance used in the 2018 attack on a former Russian double agent and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.
Navalny officials say the deployment of Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, shows that only the Russian state could be responsible, but the Kremlin firmly denies any involvement.
“Attempts to somehow connect Russia to what happened are unacceptable to us, they are absurd,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Monday.
Russian officials have accused Germany of being slow to share the results of its investigations, despite requests from prosecutors.
“We expect information (from Germany) to be made available in the coming days,” said Peskov. “We are looking forward to it.”
Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Sunday that Berlin, which holds the rotating EU presidency, will discuss possible sanctions against Russia if the Kremlin does not soon provide an explanation of what happened to Navalny.
Otherwise, Germany will be forced to “discuss a response with our allies,” including “targeted” sanctions, Maas said.
He did not rule out measures relating to Nord Stream 2, a Russian-German gas pipeline worth several billion euros that is nearing completion.
– Pipeline in the crosshairs –
The spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that she would not rule out consequences for Nord Stream 2 either.
The EUR 10 billion pipeline under the Baltic Sea is expected to double Russian gas deliveries to Germany, Europe’s largest economy.
It has long been in the crosshairs of the United States, which has criticized European countries for their reliance on energy from Russia.
Western leaders have expressed horror that Navalny’s allies say it will be the first known use of chemical weapons against a high-profile opposition leader on Russian soil.
British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said on Sunday that Russia had “very serious questions to answer” and that it was “clear” that the Kremlin critic had been poisoned with Novichok.
The Navalny poisoning is the last in a long line of attacks against Kremlin critics.
Already suffering from far-reaching Western sanctions in connection with the annexation of Crimea in 2014, as well as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and falling oil prices, Moscow is keen to avoid further pressure on its economy.
Navalny fell ill after boarding a plane in Siberia last month. Aides said they suspected he had a spiked cup of tea at the airport.
He was initially treated at a local hospital, where doctors said they couldn’t find any toxic substances in his blood, before he was flown to Berlin for special treatment on August 22nd.
The charismatic, Yale-trained lawyer is still in intensive care and remains on a ventilator.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)