The Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who, according to Germany, was poisoned by a Novichok nerve agent with weapon quality, no longer has a medically-related coma and reacts to speech, the Berlin hospital treating him announced on Monday.
The 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.
“He reacts to verbal stimuli,” said the Charite hospital in a statement, reporting that his condition had “improved”.
Navalny will also be weaned from mechanical ventilation, but the hospital said it was too early to determine the long-term effects of the poisoning.
Germany said last week that toxicological tests carried out by its armed forces had found “clear evidence” that Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok, the substance used in the 2018 attack on a former Russian double agent and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury has been used.
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.”
Germany warned, however, that Moscow’s failure to thoroughly investigate the incident could have dire consequences.
Pipeline in the crosshairs
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.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said on Monday that she agreed with Maas, who is a member of the junior coalition partner Social Democrats.
Even it would not rule out consequences for Nord Stream 2 – a 10 billion euro pipeline under the Baltic Sea that is supposed to double Russian natural 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.
US President Donald Trump has signed a law aimed at contractors working on the project, which means that German companies are subject to sanctions even for small investments.
“Sure,” said Trump when he was asked at a press conference in the White House on Monday whether Germany should cancel the project.
But he does not know whether Germany is currently in a position to do so, he said, “because Germany is in a very weak position energetically”.
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.
The UK said Monday it had urged Russia’s ambassador to express “deep concern” about the poisoning.
“It is completely unacceptable that a banned chemical weapon has been used and that Russia should conduct a full, transparent investigation,” wrote British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Twitter.
The condemnation reflects other Western voices, and Merkel has also said that “only Russia” can and must provide answers to the incident.
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’s aides have said they suspect he had a cup of spiked tea at the airport.
The charismatic, Yale-trained lawyer was initially treated at a Russian hospital, where doctors said they could not find any toxic substances in his blood, before he was flown to Berlin for special treatment on August 22.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)