NATO Meets To Discuss Navalny Poisoning As EU Considers Response To Russia
Members of the NATO defense alliance will hold a special session on September 4 to discuss the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny with a military-grade nerve agent.
The 30-member Western military alliance is expected to formally call on Russia to conduct a full and transparent investigation, but more concrete measures are unlikely to be immediately announced.
Germany on September 2 said that toxicology tests provided “unequivocal evidence” that the gravely ill Kremlin-critic had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.
Navalny, 44, fell ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20, forcing the plane he was traveling on to make an emergency landing in Omsk, where he spent two days in hospital before being evacuated to Germany.
He is now on a respirator and under medically induced coma in an intensive-care unit at Charite Hospital in Berlin.
Germany is seeking to forge a joint reaction against Russia from its EU and NATO partners, after Chancellor Angela Merkel describe Navalny’s case as an “attempted murder by poisoning.”
The EU is now considering possible sanctions on Russia.
On behalf of all EU members, the bloc’s foreign-policy chief, Josep Borrell, on September 3 issued a statement condemning the “assassination attempt” on Navalny and demanding Moscow fully investigate the crime.
“The European Union calls for a joint international response and reserves the right to take appropriate actions, including through restrictive measures,” Borrell said. “Impunity must not and will not be tolerated.”
Borrell demanded Russia “fully cooperate” with the OPCW chemical-weapons watchdog to ensure a full international investigation.
So far, Russia has resorted to obfuscation and denial in its response to Navalny’s case.
“We would not want our partners in Germany and other European countries to rush to some sort of judgement,” Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, said on September 3.
Peskov said that Moscow was “undoubtedly interested in determining the cause of what happened” to the Kremlin foe, but requested that Germany officially present its findings to Russia.
“So far we have received no information,” he said.
Pressure is also mounting on Merkel at home to abandon the Nord Stream 2 project, an underwater Baltic Sea pipeline nearing completion that would bring gas from Russia to Germany.
“Diplomatic rituals are no longer enough,” Norbert Roettgen, the head of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, tweeted on September 2.
“After the poisoning of Navalny we need a strong European answer which Putin understands: The EU should jointly decide to stop Nord Stream 2,” said Roettgen, a candidate to be the next leader of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party.
Last week, the German chancellor rejected the idea that the Navalny case should be linked to Nord Stream 2, a project that has drawn the ire of the United States and some European partners.
In Washington, the U.S. National Security Council said the United States would work with allies “to hold those in Russia accountable, wherever the evidence leads, and restrict funds for their malign activities.”
In Congress, lawmakers called on the Trump administration to impose congressionally mandated sanctions on Russia.
Navalny’s poisoning has echoes with the case of former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British city of Salisbury. A British investigation determined that the Skripals had been poisoned with Novichok and alleged that the attack was carried out by Russian state agents.
The British government expelled 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow refused to cooperate with an investigation into the Skripal poisoning. The United States and other European states expelled dozens of Russian diplomats in a coordinated response.
From the beginning, allies of Navalny have said that the Russian state was behind the poisoning.
Navalny, who has been attacked and arrested several times in the past, is a leading politician, anti-corruption campaigner, and protest leader.
He had been in Siberia for his latest investigation into corruption and to support opposition candidates in September’s local elections before he fell ill.