Merkel faces calls for new Russia sanctions after Putin opponent’s poisoning
04 Sep 2020

Chancellor Angela Merkel said tests showed “unequivocally” that Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned by a military-grade novichok nerve agent, dramatically escalating tensions with the Kremlin and sending the ruble tumbling.

Germany will consult with European Union and NATO allies to formulate an appropriate response over the incident, Merkel said, adding that the world was waiting for answers from the Russian government about what happened.

“It’s clear that Alexey Navalny is the victim of a crime. The intent was to silence him,” Merkel told reporters on Wednesday in Berlin. “It poses questions that only the Russian government can answer and must answer.”

The findings by a special German armed forces laboratory ratchet up a standoff between EU nations led by Germany and President Vladimir Putin. Merkel already raised the prospect of a coordinated response on Friday. Navalny has been receiving treatment at Berlin’s Charite hospital, where he has been in an induced coma since being flown to the German capital on Aug. 22.

Alexander Dobrindt, the deputy caucus leader and a member of the Bavarian branch of Merkel’s bloc, demanded new EU sanctions against Russia after the latest revelations. There will have to be a “common European response to this deed,” the lawmaker said at a press briefing Wednesday, as well as “uncomfortable and serious” discussions between the Russian and German governments.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab offered to work closely with Germany and other allies to “demonstrate that there are consequences for using banned chemical weapons anywhere in the world.” He added that “the Russian government has a clear case to answer.”

The U.S. echoed those sentiments and indicated it was ready to target the finances of those involved.

“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,” said John Ullyot, spokesman for the National Security Council.

A novichok agent was used in the March 2018 attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil. The U.K.’s allies joined in a concerted expulsion of 150 Russian diplomats in retaliation, which led to a sharp escalation of tensions.

The presence of the nerve agent links the Kremlin directly to the poisoning, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said on Twitter.

“Russian authorities stand behind this,” he said on Twitter, a sentiment that was also echoed by lawmakers in Merkel’s bloc in parliament. “Those responsible for such a cynical crime must face consequences. Not too many lines remain uncrossed,” Linkevicius said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow is ready to cooperate with the German government on the case but reiterated that Russian doctors found no evidence Navalny was poisoned.

By Patrick Donahue, Bloomberg, 2 September 2020

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