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Navalny's Condition Is Said To Have Improved, But Kremlin Critic's Spokeswoman Has Her Doubts

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Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny was poisoned on August 20.

The German magazine Der Spiegel has reported that the hospitalized Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has made further progress and is said to be able to speak, although a Navalny spokesperson appeared to downplay the report.

Russian authorities have pressed Germany to share the evidence that led them to conclude "without doubt" that Navalny was poisoned with a military nerve agent from the Novichok group, the same class of Soviet-era nerve agents that British authorities said was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England in 2018. Russian doctors said they had found no trace of poison in Navalny's system.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused critics in the West on September 10 of expecting Russia to accept blame for something it had nothing to do with.

The Kremlin critic is being treated in Berlin's Charite hospital after becoming seriously ill on a Russian domestic flight last month. Germany has demanded Russia explain the affair, though Russia denies any involvement.

"Der Spiegel and Bellingcat understand that Navalny can speak again and can likely remember details about his collapse," the magazine wrote, crediting its investigative website partner. "His statements could be dangerous for people behind the attack."

The German magazine said Navalny's police protection had been stepped up in the expectation that he would be receiving more visitors as his condition improved.

The Insider, a Russian investigative website also involved in the report, said Navalny remembered events up to the illness.

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However, Navalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh appeared to downplay the report.

"In connection with the latest material about Aleksei: that he is conscious and reacting to those around him, we reported that already on Monday, but, in general, the article is very exaggerated and contained many factual errors," Yarmysh wrote on Twitter, without explicitly citing the Der Spiegel article.

There was no immediate comment by the hospital treating Navalny.

The affair has added fresh tensions between Russia and the West.

Lavrov charged that Germany, the United States and other Western allies who have urged Russia to conduct a probe into Navalny's poisoning expect Moscow to accept blame for something it hasn't done.

"We’re accustomed to unfounded accusations," Lavrov said. "When the official representative of the German government says that the request from the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has been directed to independent judiciary agencies and so the German government can do nothing about it while demanding that we conduct an investigation, it resembles the precedent created by our Western colleagues following the Salisbury poisoning incident."

"If such logic prevails, that would only mean that they put themselves above the law, above everyone else," he added.

Germany’s Defense Ministry has said the data about Navalny had been provided to the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Lavrov’s comments come a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on September 9 that there was a "substantial chance" his poisoning was ordered by senior Russian officials.

Pompeo said people around the world "see this kind of activity for what it is. And when they see the effort to poison a dissident, and they recognize that there is a substantial chance that this actually came from senior Russian officials, I think this is not good for the Russian people."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on September 10 that Moscow viewed that statement as "unacceptable."

Berlin is facing calls for a sharper response to the poisoning. Some opposition politicians have called for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany to be cancelled, even as it nears completion.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was quoted on September 10 as saying Russian President Vladimir Putin had told him he would set up a committee to investigate Navalny's case and "was ready to collaborate with the German authorities."

Peskov later on September 10 appeared to deny that report, saying the Italian minister's remarks could have been based on a "misunderstanding."

Peskov told reporters that Moscow still saw no grounds to open a criminal case into the illness of Navalny.

Peskov said Russia had not seen solid evidence of his alleged poisoning and that it had not received any medical data from Germany.

With reporting by Reuters, Spiegel, Die Zeit, The Insider, and Meduza
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