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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Pompeo: ‘Substantial chance’ senior Russian officials were behind Navalny poisoning

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged Wednesday that there was a “substantial chance” senior Russian officials were behind the poisoning of the Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

During an interview with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, Pompeo said the U.S. was working in tandem with European powers to find whoever was responsible for poisoning the prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin. Though stopping short of directly assigning blame to the Russian government, Pompeo strongly suggested its involvement.

Pompeo said efforts to poison political dissidents put “black marks” on countries, and he condemned the poisoning as “not how normal countries operate.”

“People all around the world see this kind of activity for what it is,” he said. “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. I think it’s not good for Russia.”

He added: “I think people see this and say this is not the way countries that want to be powers, that want to be important and play on the global stage, this is not the way that they should engage in activity. They ought to instead promote freedom and democracy.”

The Trump administration has been hesitant to assign blame for the attack against the 44-year-old anti-corruption activist. President Donald Trump called the episode “tragic” but said there was not enough proof to know exactly what happened.

Navalny was hospitalized after feeling ill on a domestic flight in Russia in late August, and was subsequently flown to Berlin for treatment. The German government later said that he was poisoned with a Novichok chemical nerve agent.

Pompeo condemned the poisoning in an Aug. 25 statement, but did not directly point at the Russian government.

“If the reports prove accurate, the United States supports the EU’s call for a comprehensive investigation and stands ready to assist in that effort,” the statement said.

Pompeo also signed on to a joint statement by the foreign ministers of G-7 member states demanding that Russia be transparent on who was responsible for the attack. The G-7 statement said its signatories had their attention fixed on Russia’s handling of the episode and evoked the country’s commitments to combating the use of chemical weapons.

“This attack against opposition leader Navalny is another grave blow against democracy and political plurality in Russia,” the statement said. “It constitutes a serious threat to those men and women engaged in defending the political and civil freedoms that Russia herself has committed to guarantee.”

Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.

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