Germany and France say they will seek European Union sanctions targeting individuals held responsible for the poisoning of Aleksei Navalny, after a global chemical watchdog confirmed that a banned nerve agent was used against the Russian opposition leader.
Navalny is recovering in Germany after he was poisoned in August with a chemical agent from the banned Novichok group. Russia has denied any involvement and resisted international pressure to launch a criminal investigation.
"No credible explanation has been provided by Russia so far. In this context, we consider that there is no other plausible explanation for Mr. Navalny's poisoning than Russian involvement and responsibility," the German and French foreign ministers said in a joint statement on October 7.
Heiko Maas and Jean-Yves Le Drian added that they would shortly share proposals for sanctions targets with their European partners.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the statement as "unacceptable in content and tone" and accused Germany and France of "threats and attempts to blackmail us."
The announcement by Berlin and Paris comes a day after The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that “the biomarkers of the cholinesterase inhibitor found in Mr. Navalny’s blood and urine samples have similar structural characteristics” as the toxic chemicals belonging to the Novichok group.
The findings confirmed results released by Germany and corroborated by laboratories in France and Sweden that have sparked international condemnation and calls for sanctions against Moscow over the case.
Maas and Le Drian said the sanction proposals would "target individuals deemed responsible for this crime and breach of international norms, based on their official function, as well as an entity involved in the Novichok program."
Reuters quoted two diplomats as saying Russian GRU military intelligence officials would be among the individuals targeted.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country stands "side by side" with Germany and France and will work to secure sanctions against “Russian officials and others who are considered responsible for this crime as well those involved in the development of the Novichok chemical weapon program."
Earlier in the day, Maas told parliament that without an explanation from Russia regarding the poisoning, "targeted and proportionate sanctions against those responsible are unavoidable."
"It would be possible to sanction very quickly individuals who, for example, are known to be involved in the development of chemical warfare agents - and that is a discussion we will have in the European Union in the coming days," the German minister said.
Meanwhile, Navalny suggested the EU get tougher on individuals close to the Kremlin, saying that sanctions against Russia as a whole don’t work.
“The most important thing is to impose entry bans against those who profit from the regime and freeze their assets," Navalny said in an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper, adding this includes “oligarchs and high officials” -- President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
"They embezzle money, steal billions, and at the weekend they fly to Berlin or London, buy expensive apartments, and sit in cafes," Navalny said in the interview.
He said the ban should extend to high-profile Russians such as Valery Gergiev, chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, who supported Putin in the last election.
“If he loves the regime so much and wants Russia not to go the European route, then you have to tell him: You are a very talented musician, but we will no longer allow you to enter the EU," he said. "You can enjoy Putin's regime in Russia."
Navalny also singled out former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a lobbyist for Russian energy firms, saying it was "very disappointing" to hear that Schroeder said there were "no facts" on his poisoning and everything thus far had been "speculation."
"He is the former chancellor of the most powerful country in Europe. Now Schroeder is Putin's errand boy who protects murderers," the Kremlin foe and anti-corruption campaigner said.