MOSCOW/BERLIN (Reuters) – Russia said on Thursday the West should not rush to judge it over the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and said there were no grounds to accuse it of the crime, as talk in the West of punishing Moscow intensified.
Moscow was speaking a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Navalny had been poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent in an attempt to murder him and that she would consult NATO allies about how to respond.
Navalny, 44, is an outspoken opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has specialized in high-impact investigations into official corruption. He was airlifted to Germany last month after collapsing on a domestic Russian flight after drinking a cup of tea that his allies said was poisoned.
Berlin’s Charite hospital, which is treating Navalny, has said he remains in a serious condition in an intensive care unit connected to an artificial lung ventilator even though some of his symptoms are receding.
Novichok is the same substance that Britain said was used against a Russian double agent and his daughter in an attack in England in 2018. The deadly group of nerve agents was developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow rejected any suggestion that Russia had been behind the attack on Navalny and warned other countries against jumping to conclusions without knowing the full facts.
“There are no grounds to accuse the Russian state. And we are not inclined to accept any accusations in this respect,” Peskov told reporters.
“Of course we would not want our partners in Germany and other European countries to hurry with their assessments.”
Russian prosecutors have said they see no reason to launch a criminal investigation into the Navalny case because they say they have found no sign a crime was committed against him, though preliminary checks are continuing.
Peskov said Russia was eager to find out what had happened to Navalny, but couldn’t do so without receiving information from Germany about the tests that had led to Berlin’s conclusions about Novichok.
Merkel, after her strong statement on Navalny, is already under pressure at home to reconsider the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will take gas from Russia to Germany.
“We must pursue hard politics, we must respond with the only language (Russian President Vladimir) Putin understands – that is gas sales,” Norbert Roettgen, head of Germany’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told German radio.
“If the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is completed now, it would be the maximum confirmation and encouragement for Putin to continue this kind of politics,” Roettgen, a member of Merkel’s conservatives, told German television earlier.
Nord Stream 2 is set to double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline in carrying gas directly from Russia to Germany. Led by Russian company Gazprom with Western partners, the project is more than 90% finished and due to operate from early 2021. This may complicate efforts to stop it.
The project is fiercely opposed by Washington and has divided the European Union, with some countries warning it will undermine the traditional gas transit state, Ukraine, and increase the bloc’s reliance on Russia.
The European Commission said on Thursday that the bloc could only slap new sanctions on Russia after a probe reveals who was responsible for Navalny’s poisoning.
Peskov said the Kremlin regarded talk of trying to thwart Nord Stream 2 as being based on emotions. He said the project was a commercial one which benefited Russia, Germany and Europe.
“We don’t understand what the reason for any sanctions could be,” said Peskov.
Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Maxim Rodionov in Moscow and by Thomas Seythal and Vera Eckert in Berlin and by Gabriela Baczynska, John Chalmers, and Marine Strauss in Brussels; Editing by William Maclean
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.