Navalny poisoning: Germany raises pressure on Russia with sanctions talk

By Agence France-Presse

Germany, the current head of the European Union, will discuss possible sanctions on Russia over the poisoning of Alexei Navalny if the Kremlin does not provide an explanation soon, its foreign minister said on Sunday.

Russian opposition leader Navalny fell ill on a flight last month and was treated in a Siberian hospital before being evacuated to Berlin.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said last week there was “unequivocal evidence” the vocal critic of president Vladimir Putin had been poisoned using Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

Heiko Maas told German daily Bild on Sunday: “If in the coming days Russia does not help clarify what happened, we will be compelled to discuss a response with our allies.” Any sanctions decided should be “targeted”, he added, and did not rule out action relating to the disputed Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

The €10bn ($11bn) pipeline is meant to deliver Russian gas to Europe, but the project has been strongly criticised by the United States.

“I hope ... that the Russians do not force us to change our position on Nord Stream,” he said, adding that the consequences of any potential cancellation of the project would also need to be weighed, and that the debate on sanctions should not be “reduced” to one point.

Western leaders and many Russians 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.

The Kremlin has denied responsibility for the attack and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has said Germany is yet to share any findings with Moscow’s prosecutors.

Maas said on Sunday there were “several indications” that Russia was behind the poisoning, in the strongest accusations yet from Germany.

“The deadly substance with which Navalny was poisoned has in the past been found in the hands of Russian authorities.

“Only a small number of people have access to Novichok and this poison was used by Russian secret services in the attack against former agent Sergei Skripal,” he said, referring to the 2018 attack in the English city of Salisbury.