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German Foreign Minister Adds To Pressure On Moscow To Clarify Navalny Poisoning


German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (file photo)
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (file photo)

Germany's foreign minister has signaled that Berlin will push for new sanctions against Russia if Moscow fails to explain the poisoning of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, and rejected Moscow's allegations that Berlin was delaying investigation efforts.

Heiko Maas opened the day's remarks in an interview published on September 6, as German officials signaled a tough line against Russia, which has denied involvement in the poisoning and which later in the day accused the German authorities of not cooperating with Moscow.

According to Maas, there are "several indications" that Russia was behind the poisoning.

"If in the coming days Russia does not help clarify what happened, we will be compelled to discuss a response with our allies," Maas was quoted as telling Bild am Sonntag.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova later said that Russia would cooperate with investigations into the poisoning, but told the broadcaster Rossia-24 that "the Berlin side needs to show operational action."

In follow-up comments on September 6 to the broadcaster ARD, Maas called the Russian accusation a "smokescreen," adding that there was no reason to not consent to cooperate with Russia on the matter.

In his interview with Bild am Sonntag, Maas also signaled a possible shift in German policy regarding the nearly complete Baltic Sea pipeline known as Nord Stream 2.

Chancellor Angela Merkel previously rejected the idea that the Navalny case should be linked to Nord Stream 2, which would bring gas from Russia to Germany.

Merkel has been under pressure from the United States and other Western countries to scrap the plan.

Maas emphasized that stopping the pipeline would damage many German and European companies, but he said that didn't preclude other narrowly focused sanctions.

"When we think about sanctions, they should be as targeted as possible," he was quoted as saying.

Germany on September 2 said that toxicology tests provided "unequivocal evidence" that the gravely ill Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok.

The Soviet-style, military-grade nerve agent has been in the past in the possession of military authorities and is only accessible to a very small group of people, Maas said.

Novichok was also used in the attack on Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain in 2018.

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If the Russian side did not participate in solving the crime against Navalny, that would be a further indication of the state's involvement, Maas said.

Russian authorities have denied the German accusations, but also refused to open a criminal investigation into the case, saying that no hard evidence has been found.

In a comment posted on Facebook, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova asserted that German officials had failed to respond to a request for information sent by the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office.

"Where is this urgency that you insist on?" Zakharova wrote, addressing Maas directly. "Berlin is stalling the investigative process which it is calling for. On purpose?"

Navalny, 44, fell ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20, forcing the plane he was traveling on to make an emergency landing in Omsk, where he spent two days in hospital before being evacuated to Germany.

He is now on a respirator and under medically induced coma in an intensive-care unit at Charite Hospital in Berlin.

In Britain, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab seconded the warnings from Germany, saying Russia was obligated to make sure that chemical weapons are not, and cannot be, used on its territory.

"What is clear right now is that the Russian government has a very serious set of questions to answer," he told Sky News.

NATO on September 4 called on Russia to “fully cooperate” with an "impartial, international" probe to be led by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into the poisoning.

Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the NATO allies demanded Moscow reveal its Novichok program to the chemical-weapons organization.

Russia "now has serious questions it must answer," Stoltenberg told a news conference.

With reporting by Bild am Sonntag, ZDF, and AFP
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