President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has brushed off allegations that the Kremlin was involved in poisoning the Russian leader’s most determined critic, Alexei Navalny.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Germany of not providing Moscow with any evidence about the condition of the Russian dissident.
Mr Navalny, a politician and corruption investigator, fell ill on a flight to Moscow on August 20 and was taken to a hospital in the Siberian city Omsk.
He has been in an induced coma in a Berlin hospital after being flown from Siberia to Germany for treatment more than a week ago.
German authorities said on Wednesday that tests showed “proof without doubt” that he had been poisoned with a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group.
British authorities identified the Soviet-era Novichok as the poison used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England in 2018.
But Mr Peskov insisted on Thursday that Russian authorities had still not received any evidence from Germany to back up their allegation.
“We haven’t received any information so far,” Mr Peskov said.
“We hope that it will happen soon and will help figure out what caused the condition the patient is in right now.”
Mr Peskov reiterated that Russian specialists in Omsk tested Mr Navalny for poisonous substances and did not find any in his system.
He said Russian investigators conducting a preliminary inquiry into Mr Navalny’s illness should know “what our German colleagues found and established”.
Following his stay in Omsk, Mr Navalny was moved two days later to Berlin’s Charite hospital after German Chancellor Angela Merkel personally offered the country’s assistance in treating him.
He is now in a stable condition, but doctors expect a long recovery and have not ruled out that the 44-year-old could face long-term effects on his health.
Mrs Merkel on Wednesday called Mr Navalny’s poisoning an attempted murder that aimed to silence one of Mr Putin’s fiercest critics and called for a full investigation.
“There are very serious questions now that only the Russian government can answer, and must answer,” Mrs Merkel said.
Asked about Mr Peskov’s comments on Thursday, Mrs Merkel said, “Naturally I am aware of what is being said now” but refused to comment further.
“I made a comprehensive statement yesterday about what we will do now and in the coming days,” she told reporters at the chancellery after meeting Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.
“And of course a lot depends on the respective reactions by the Russian government. But I don’t want to add anything further.”
Germany’s Justice Ministry has confirmed it has received Russia’s request for information, but would not provide details on the response.
Leonid Volkov, Mr Navalny’s longtime ally and campaign strategist, told the German RTL broadcaster that an independent investigation in Russia is unlikely and put the blame on the Kremlin.
“An attack of such level and of such co-ordination couldn’t be not authorised by Mr Putin,” Mr Volkov said.
Something happened on an aircraft within Russia, within Russian jurisdiction, so I think it's fair to say the ball is in your corner now to investigateStefan Lofven, Swedish prime minister
He said he did not know what the legal consequences should be for what happened to Mr Navalny.
“But I know for sure what I want to have as an outcome, and this is the political or a moral, ethical consequence: I really want that no foreign leader ever would shake hands with Mr Putin,” he said.
Mr Lofven, joining a chorus of other world leaders, called for Russia to investigate and punish those involved.
“We need to respond,” he said.
“Something happened on an aircraft within Russia, within Russian jurisdiction, so I think it’s fair to say the ball is in your corner now to investigate.”
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, described “the situation with Navalny” as an anti-Russian plot.
“It’s a planned action against Russia in order to impose new sanctions and try to impede the development of our country,” Mr Volodin said in a statement.
In addition to receiving blow back from Moscow, the German government has come under growing pressure to use a joint German-Russian pipeline project as leverage in getting Russia to provide answers on Mr Navalny.
The apparent attempted murder by the mafia-like structures of the Kremlin can no longer just give us cause for concern, it must have real consequencesKatrin Goering-Eckardt, Germany's Green party
When asked about the issue on Thursday, Mrs Merkel declined to comment.
Germany’s opposition Greens party urged her to end to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which would deliver Russian gas directly to Germany under the Baltic when completed, bypassing Ukraine.
“The apparent attempted murder by the mafia-like structures of the Kremlin can no longer just give us cause for concern, it must have real consequences,” Green parliamentary group leader Katrin Goering-Eckardt said.
The Greens have long opposed the pipeline.
Mrs Merkel has steadily resisted pressure from the United States to end the project, which Washington says will endanger European security by making Germany overly dependent on Russian gas.
Nord Stream 2 is also opposed by Ukraine and Poland, which will be bypassed by the pipeline under the Baltic sea, as well as some other European nations.
With the findings about Mr Navalny, even Norbert Roettgen, a leading politician in Mrs Merkel’s party, said “diplomatic rituals are no longer enough”.
“After the poisoning … we need a strong European answer, which #Putin understands” Mr Roettgen tweeted.
“The EU should jointly decide to stop #NordStream2.”
Mr Peskov dismissed the calls to abandon Nord Stream 2 as “emotional statements… not based on facts”.
He called the pipeline “an international commercial project that is in the interests of Russia, Germany and the entire European continent”.