Germany’s foreign minister has held out the possibility of sanctions on Russia if the Kremlin does not provide information soon about the suspected poisoning of opposition leader Alexey Navalny.
Heiko Maas told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag that there were “several indications” Moscow was behind the attack.
“If in the coming days Russia does not help clarify what happened, we will be compelled to discuss a response with our allies,” Maas told German daily, adding that any sanctions should be “targeted.” Germany is the current head of the European Union.
“We have high expectations of the Russian government to solve this serious crime,” Maas said. “If the government has nothing to do with the attack, then it is in its own interest to back this up with facts.”
Maas did not even rule out sanctions against the $11-billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline that is under construction to deliver Russian gas to Europe.
“I hope… that the Russians do not force us to change our position on Nord Stream,” he said. Germany would not be reluctant to act on any potential scrapping of the project upon assessment, Maas said, and that the discussions on sanctions should not be “reduced” to a single point.
Earlier this week, the German government said Navalny had been poisoned with the military-grade nerve agent Novichok.
“Only a small number of people have access to Novichok, and this poison was used by Russian secret services in the attack against former agent Sergei Skripal,” Maas told Bild.
British authorities had said that Novichok was used against the Russian double agent and his daughter in 2018.
Speaking to reporters after an urgent meeting of NATO ambassadors about Navalny in Brussels on Friday, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, “Any use of chemical weapons shows a total disrespect for human lives and is an unacceptable breach of international norms and rules.”
The allies had agreed, Stoltenberg said, that Russia must fully cooperate in an impartial investigation under the supervision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. NATO members also agreed that Russia faced serious questions it must answer, he said.
The Kremlin has rejected accusations it was behind the sudden illness of the leading Russian opposition politician.
Navalny, a well-known critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a corruption investigator, fell ill while flying to Moscow from Siberia, prompting an emergency landing in Omsk, Siberia.
His personal doctor and aide said Navalny had drunk black tea at an airport café, which she believed was laced with poison.
Three days later, Navalny was transferred to the Charité Hospital in Germany for “extensive medical diagnosis” at the insistence of his wife and his associates, and international outcry.