The European Commission said on Thursday (3 September), the bloc could slap new sanctions on Moscow only after a probe reveals who was responsible for what Germany says was the deliberate poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
EU leaders across the bloc expressed their condemnation for the suspected poisoning of Navalny, with calls growing to punish Russia for the use of the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, the same substance that Britain said had been used against a former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England in 2018.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it a “despicable and cowardly act” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was “disturbing”.
“The use of chemical weapons under any circumstances is completely unacceptable and a breach of international law,” the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, said in a statement.
Borrell said it was “essential that the Russian government investigates thoroughly and in a transparent manner the assassination attempt of Mr Navalny” and that “those responsible must be brought to justice”.
However, European Commission spokesman, Peter Stano, told reporters on Thursday (3 September) that there was no investigation into Navalny’s case ongoing for now, that Russia needed to carry out an independent probe to bring the perpetrators to justice and that the bloc would react based on Moscow’s next steps.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said that Berlin would inform its partners in the EU and NATO about the test results and consult with them “on an appropriate joint response” after Russia responds to the results. Germany would also contact the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Seibert added.
Merkel is facing domestic pressure to reconsider the Nord Stream 2 pipeline over the Navalny case, while the Kremlin rejected accusations that Russia had been responsible and said it saw no grounds for sanctions against Moscow.
Norbert Roettgen (CDU), head of Germany’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told Deutchlandfunk radio on Thursday that “there must be a European response”.
“We must pursue hard politics, we must respond with the only language [Vladimir] Putin understands – that is gas sales,” he said.
At the same time, the Greens, the country’s largest opposition party, have called upon Merkel to use the gas pipeline project to pressure the Kremlin.
Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz has called for an international investigation.
“Poland’s position is clear. We believe that an explanation is necessary cases and punishment of the guilty. We call for an international investigation,” state-run news agency PAP quoted Przydacz as saying.
In the past week, EU foreign ministers in Berlin have struggled to agree on the bloc’s planned sanctions against Belarus and at the same time come up with an adequate response to Turkey over the escalating tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.