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Sunday, September 6, 2020

Germany threatens Russia over Navalny case

Sanctions could be imposed on the Russian government if it fails to clarify the circumstances surrounding the poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny in the next few days, Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Sunday.

"If there are no contributions ... from the Russian side in the next few days, we will have to discuss an answer with our partners," Maas said in an interview published by Bild am Sonntag. "When we think about sanctions, they should be as targeted as possible.”

German officials already raised the possibility of sanctions against Russia. The government has come under increasing pressure to also reconsider its stance on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is a critical energy export project for the Russian government. Chancellor Angela Merkel has so far insisted that the multi-billion Russian-German energy project remains a commercial venture and should not be linked to broader political issues.

“I hope that the Russians will not force us to change our position on Nord Stream 2,” said Maas, who is a member of the Social Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partner.

Nalvany is being treated at the Charité Hospital in Berlin, after falling ill on a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk. According to the hospital, his condition "continues to improve" but "recovery is likely to be lengthy." The statement added that "it is still too early to gauge the long-term effects which may arise in relation to this severe poisoning."

Last week, Merkel confirmed lab tests had found Navalny was poisoned with the banned chemical nerve agent Novichok, which was also used in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal in the U.K. in 2018. British authorities say that attack was carried out by Russian security services.

"If the Russian side does not participate in the investigation of the crime against Mr. Navalny, this would be a further indication of the state's involvement in the crime," Maas said.

Russian spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Sunday responded to Maas' comments by accusing German authorities of stalling efforts to probe the case, saying Berlin had failed to respond to a request from Russian prosecutors sent on August 27, the AFP reported.

"So far we are not certain that Germany is not playing a double game," said Zakharova. "Where is the 'urgency' you are insisting upon?"

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