Germany: Foreign labs confirm Navalny poisoned with Novichok
Published 2:53 pm Monday, September 14, 2020
By GEIR MOULSON
BERLIN (AP) — Specialist labs in France and Sweden have confirmed that Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, the German government said Monday.
A German military laboratory had previously found the substance in his samples.
Navalny, the most prominent opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was flown to Germany two days after falling ill on Aug. 20 on a domestic flight in Russia and is being treated at Berlin’s Charite hospital. Berlin has demanded that Russia investigate the case.
The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also is taking steps to have samples from Navalny tested at its reference laboratories, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Monday.
He said Germany had asked France and Sweden for an “independent review” of the German findings. German officials said labs in both countries, as well as the OPCW, took their own new samples.
“Independently of the ongoing examinations by the OPCW, three laboratories have now confirmed independently of one another the proof of a nerve agent of the Novichok group as the cause of Mr. Navalny’s poisoning,” Seibert said.
He renewed Germany’s demand that “Russia explain itself” on the matter, adding that “we are in close consultation with our European partners on further steps.”
The Kremlin has bristled at calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders for Russia to answer questions about the poisoning, denying any official involvement and accusing the West of trying to smear Moscow.
Seibert wouldn’t identify the specialist French and Swedish labs. But the head of the Swedish Defence Research Agency, Asa Scott, told Swedish news agency TT: “We can confirm that we see the same results as the German laboratory, that is, that there is no doubt that it is about these substances.”
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “deep concern over the criminal act” that targeted Navalny during a phone call with Putin on Monday, Macron’s office said.
Macron confirmed that France reached the same conclusions as its European partners on the poisoning, according to the statement. “A clarification is needed from Russia within the framework of a credible and transparent investigation,” it added.
The Kremlin said Putin “underlined the impropriety of unfounded accusations against the Russian side” and emphasized Russia’s call for Germany to hand over Navalny’s analyses and samples to Russian experts. Putin also called for joint work on the case by German and Russian doctors.
Russian authorities have prodded Germany to share the evidence that led it to conclude “without doubt” that Navalny was poisoned with a military nerve agent from the Novichok group, the same class of Soviet-era agent that British authorities said was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, in 2018. Berlin has rejected suggestions from Moscow that it is dragging its heels.
Asked why no samples from Navalny have been given to Russia, German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr replied that “Mr. Navalny was in Russian treatment in a hospital for 48 hours.”
Once he became ill, Navalny was treated at a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk, where Russian doctors said no evidence of poisoning could be found. A German charity sent a medical evacuation plane to bring him to Berlin for treatment.
“There are samples from Mr. Navalny on the Russian side,” Adebahr said. “The Russian side is called on, even after three independent labs have established the result, to explain itself, and Russia has … all the information and all the samples it needs for an analysis.”
The 44-year-old Navalny was kept in an induced coma for more than a week as he was treated with an antidote before hospital officials said a week ago that his condition had improved enough for him to be brought out of it.
The Charite hospital didn’t immediately have an update Monday on Navalny’s condition and it was not clear when it would issue the next one.