BERLIN/PARIS (Reuters) – Germany and France called on Russia on Monday to cooperate and investigate what happened to Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny after laboratories in France and Sweden independently confirmed that he was poisoned with the Soviet-style nerve agent Novichok.
The apparent assassination attempt has brought tensions between Russia and Europe to new heights and fuelled calls for sanctions against Moscow – including scrapping the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a Kremlin flagship project to bring more Russian gas directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West of using the incident as a pretext to impose additional sanctions on Russia, the Interfax news agency reported.
German army doctors at Berlin’s Charite hospital, to which Navalny was evacuated after falling unconscious during a flight over Siberia last month, were the first to say he had been poisoned with Novichok. Navalny awoke from a coma last week.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said the initial findings had now been independently corroborated by laboratories in France and Sweden.
Samples taken from the Russian opposition politician had also been sent to the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague for additional tests in their labs, Seibert added.
“We renew our call for Russia to explain these events,” Seibert said.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in a statement after holding a telephone call with President Vladimir Putin that Moscow had to explain itself now.
“The president expressed his deep concern over the criminal act perpetrated against Alexei Navalany and the imperative that all light be shed, without delay, on the circumstances and responsibilities of this attempted assassination,” Macron’s office said.
Macron expressed his full solidarity with Germany on the steps to be taken and the consequences to be drawn from the situation, it added.
“Clarification is needed from Russia in the context of a credible and transparent investigation,” the Elysee said.
According to a Kremlin readout of the call, Putin told Macron that it was “inappropriate” to make groundless accusations against Russia over the Navalny case.
Putin said that Russia wanted Germany to hand over medical test results taken from Navalny, the Kremlin added.
In an update on Navalny’s health status, the Charite hospital said his condition continued to improve.
“The patient has been successfully removed from mechanical ventilation. He is currently undergoing mobilization and is able to leave his bed for short periods of time,” it said.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Seythal and Thomas Escritt in Berlin, by John Irish and Michel Rose in Paris and by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Alex Richardson)