Russia’s Navalny poisoned by nerve agent, Germany says, citing ‘unequivocal proof’

Medical specialists carry Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on a stretcher into an ambulance on their way to an airport before his medical evacuation to Germany in Omsk, Russia on August 22, 2020.
Medical specialists carry Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on a stretcher into an ambulance on their way to an airport before his medical evacuation to Germany in Omsk, Russia on August 22, 2020. © Alexey Malgavko, REUTERS

The German government revealed on Wednesday that tests carried out on Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny showed that he was poisoned by a Novichok chemical nerve agent. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the “attempted murder … has given rise to some very serious questions that only Russia can and must answer". Moments later, the Kremlin said Russia was ready and have "an interest in full cooperation”.

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Tests carried out by the German army in consultation with the Charité hospital in Berlin, where Alexei Navalny is being treated, have found "unequivocal evidence of a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok family," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

"It is a shocking event that Alexei Navalny has become the victim of an attack with a chemical nerve agent in Russia," Seibert added. "The government condemns this attack in the strongest terms. The Russian government is urgently requested to provide clarifications over the incident."

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"This is disturbing information about the attempted murder through poisoning against a leading Russian opposition figure," Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "This has given rise to some very serious questions that only Russia can and must answer", since “this poison could be identified unequivocally in tests", she said.

Merkel added Germany would consult its NATO allies about how to respond, raising the prospect of new Western sanctions on Russia.

Kremlin-critic Navalny, 44, fell ill after boarding a plane in Siberia on August 20. He was initially treated in a local hospital before being flown to Berlin for treatment.

Moscow denies involvement, ‘ready’ to ‘fully cooperate’

Hours after Germany’s statements, Moscow denied involvement in the incident. The Russian foreign ministry said Germany's assertion was not backed by evidence and complained about the way Germany had chosen to release information about Navalny.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists: "In general we confirm that we are ready and have an interest in full cooperation and exchange of data on this topic with Germany."

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The Charité hospital has reported "some improvement" in Navalny's condition but he nevertheless remains in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator. It said it could not rule out long-term consequences from his poisoning and that it expected him to go through a long period of illness.

"Only the state (FSB, GRU) can use Novichok. This is beyond any reasonable doubt," said Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, on Twitter, referring to the FSB internal security and GRU military intelligence services.

‘Despicable and cowardly act’

Reactions poured in from Western powers. EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that "those responsible” for “this … despicable and cowardly act … should be brought to justice".

The White House said it is "deeply troubled". "Alexei Navalny's poisoning is completely reprehensible," National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said on Twitter, noting that the poison was Novichok, a nerve agent used by Russia in the past. "We will work with allies and the international community to hold those in Russia accountable, wherever the evidence leads, and restrict funds for their malign activities," he said.

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab also said on Wednesday that Russia "must tell the truth". "The Russian government has a clear case to answer," Raab said in a statement. "It must tell the truth about what happened to Mr Navalny."

Same chemical as Skripal’s poisoning

The case has drawn parallels with two suspected Kremlin-linked poisonings in Britain.

In 2018, the Kremlin was accused of being behind the attempted murder of ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, southwest England, using a Novichok nerve agent. Twelve years priorly, in 2006, President Vladimir Putin was blamed for the radiation poisoning death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in the British capital.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP & REUTERS)

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