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22nd Jan 2022

Germany builds momentum for EU sanctions over Navalny

  • Field inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague (Photo: opcw.org)

The likelihood of new EU sanctions on Russia has grown after international experts said opposition leader Alexei Navalny was attacked with a chemical weapon.

"The results of the analysis of biomedical samples ... demonstrate that Mr Navalny was exposed to a toxic chemical" from a banned substance commonly known as novichok, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague said in a statement on Tuesday (6 October).

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"These results constitute a matter of grave concern" the OPCW's director-general Fernando Arias said.

The OPCW also shared detailed data with all 193 member countries and held a meeting of its executive council.

Its findings prompted German foreign minister Heiko Maas to repeat his call for EU sanctions on Russia.

"It's not a bilateral issue between Germany and Russia, it's an international topic - the use of a nerve agent affects the entire international community," he said.

"Any use of chemical weapons is completely unacceptable and cannot go unanswered," Maas said.

The German envoy to the OPCW, Gudrun Lingner, also said there was no credible alternative to Russian state involvement in the attempted murder.

"It is up to Russia - where the chemical attack occurred - to shed light on the incident, and to provide an explanation on how a chemical nerve agent came to be used in a reckless act against a Russian citizen on Russian soil ... Up to now, the Russian Federation has not provided any credible explanation," she said in a statement.

The British OPCW envoy, Nicola Stewart, compared the Navalny attack to the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, in the UK in 2018, also with novichok.

"It is less than three years since we saw first-hand the deadly consequences of novichok used as a chemical weapon in the United Kingdom," she said.

"We are appalled that there should have been a repeat anywhere in the world," she added.

And a group of 44 OPCW members, including France, Germany, and the UK, called on Russia "to disclose in a swift and transparent manner the circumstances of this chemical weapons attack".

Germany has led EU diplomacy on Navalny because he was flown to Berlin for medical treatment after falling ill in Russia in August.

Maas had previously warned that if the OPCW confirmed Germany's medical analysis, then Berlin would push for EU sanctions.

"There will be a clear answer from the EU ... I am convinced that there will be no avoiding sanctions," he said on Saturday.

The Skripal incident saw EU states expel dozens of Russian diplomats.

The Navalny case was more likely to see the EU impose visa-bans and asset-freezes on a handful of Russian officials or intelligence officers in Russia deemed responsible for the crime, EU sources previously told EUobserver.

Obfuscation

For his part, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that Moscow would comment on the OPCW report after closer reading of its contents.

But Moscow has, up to now, denied any wrongdoing.

Russian diplomats have also promoted conspiracy theories among European media, saying, for instance, that Germany had poisoned Navalny in a false-flag operation.

And its official channels were little better, Lingner, the German OPCW envoy, indicated.

Russia had sought to "obfuscate, to deflect responsibility, and to distract from the main point - the use of a military-grade nerve agent", instead of providing clarity, she said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a German court will, on Wednesday, begin the trial of a Russian suspected of shooting dead a Russian exile in a park in Berlin last year in proceedings that threaten to further harm relations.

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