Russia says West trying to victimize Moscow over Navalny

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CAPTION CORRECTS DATE In this photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, center, speaks at a meeting of Foreign Ministers of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Commonwealth of Independent States and Collective Security Treaty Organization Member States in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s top diplomat on Thursday accused the West of leveling accusations of poisoning top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny without providing evidence, staunchly denying any official involvement.

Navalny, the most visible opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was flown to Germany two days after falling ill on Aug. 20 on a domestic flight in Russia. German chemical weapons experts have determined that the 44-year-old was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent, prompting Berlin to demand that Russia investigate the case.

The German hospital treating him said Monday that Navalny’s condition has improved, allowing doctors to take him out of an induced coma.

Russian authorities have prodded Germany to share the evidence that led them 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. Russian doctors said they had found no trace of poison in Navalny’s system.

Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov charged that Germany, the United States and other Western allies who urge Russia to conduct a probe into Navalny’s poisoning squarely expect Russia to accept blame for something it hasn’t done.

“We’re accustomed to unfounded accusations,” Lavrov said. “When the official representative of the German government says that the request from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has been directed to independent judiciary agencies and so the German government can do nothing about it while demanding that we conduct an investigation, it resembles the precedent created by our Western colleagues following the Salisbury poisoning incident.”

“If such logic prevails, that would only mean that they put themselves above the law, above everyone else,” he added.

Germany’s Defense Ministry has said the data about Navalny had been provided to the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Thursday that Russia is still unaware whether Germany has handed over any information to the OPCW. He underlined that it would like to receive the information firsthand to help investigate the case.

“We don’t know what they have given to the OPCW,” he said during a conference call with reporters. “We naturally prefer that they hand over those analyses directly to us.”

Peskov noted that Russian authorities had launched a preliminary check into what happened to Navalny, but emphasized that they need proof of his poisoning to conduct a full-fledged criminal inquiry.

“We have been left puzzling over what kind of difficulties could have prevented them from sharing their findings with us,” he said.

Earlier this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office indicated that she might be willing to rethink the fate of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will bring Russian gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea — a sign of Berlin’s growing frustration over Moscow’s stonewalling about the Navalny case.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told conservative radio host Ben Shapiro that when people around the world “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 the world has matured and come to an understanding that this is not how normal countries operate, and this will prove costly for the Russians,” Pompeo said.

But when asked in another interview with Fox late Wednesday if there is a direct link between Putin or the Kremlin and Navalny’s poisoning, he said “I can’t answer that for you tonight.”

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Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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