Russian opposition leader Navalny out of medically induced coma, says German hospital

File photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny taken in 2018 in Moscow.
File photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny taken in 2018 in Moscow. AFP - MLADEN ANTONOV

Russia’s poisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny is out of a medically induced coma and is being weaned off mechanical ventilation, the Berlin hospital treating him said Monday.

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“The condition of Alexei Navalny has improved. The patient has been removed from his medically induced coma and is being weaned off mechanical ventilation. He is responding to verbal stimuli,” said statement by the Charité hospital, Berlin.

The statement, however, noted that it was “too early to gauge the potential long-term effects of his severe poisoning”.

The 44-year-old Russian opposition leader fell ill on a flight last month and was treated in a Siberian hospital before being evacuated to Berlin.

Germany has said there was "unequivocal evidence" that President Vladimir Putin's top foe had been poisoned using Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

Kremlin says ‘absurd’ to blame Russia

The Kremlin on Monday denounced the "absurd" attempts to blame Russia for the poisoning, as Europe considers whether to impose sanctions.

Navalny's associates say the use of Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, shows that only the Russian state could be responsible, but the Kremlin fiercely denies any involvement.

"Attempts to somehow associate Russia with 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 findings of its investigation despite a request from prosecutors.

Pipeline in crosshairs

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Sunday that Berlin, which holds the rotating EU presidency, will discuss possible sanctions against Russia if the Kremlin does not soon provide an explanation for what happened to Navalny.

Otherwise, Germany will be compelled to "discuss a response with our allies" including "targeted" sanctions, Maas said.

He did not rule out action relating to Nord Stream 2, a multi-billion-euro Russian-German gas pipeline nearing completion.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said Monday that she also would not rule out consequences for Nord Stream 2.

The €10 billion ($11 billion) pipeline beneath the Baltic Sea is set to double Russian natural gas shipments to Germany, Europe's largest economy.

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It has long been in the crosshairs of the US, which has criticised European countries for their reliance on energy from Russia.

UK summons Russian ambassador

Western leaders have expressed horror at what Navalny's allies say is the first known use of chemical weapons against a high-profile opposition leader on Russian soil.

"Today the UK summoned Russia's Ambassador to the UK to register deep concern about the poisoning of Alexey @navalny," Raab said on Twitter.

"It's completely unacceptable that a banned chemical weapon has been used and Russia must hold a full, transparent investigation."

Raab added that he was relieved to hear Navalny had been  taken out of his medically-induced coma.

The Navalny poisoning is the latest in a long series of assassination attempts against Kremlin critics. In 2018, British authorities identified Novichok as the poison used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.

Already suffering from wide-ranging Western sanctions imposed over its 2014 annexation of Crimea, as well as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the drop in oil prices, Moscow is anxious to avoid any further pressure on its economy.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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