Germany and France seek EU sanctions on Russians over Navalny

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny with his wife Yulia at a hospital in Berlin, Germany on Sept 15. (AP pic)

LUXEMBOURG: Germany and France urged their European Union partners on Monday to consider imposing sanctions on Russians suspected of poisoning Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent.

Berlin and Paris say they have not had a credible explanation from Moscow for what the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said was the presence of the banned Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in his body.

“This (violation of the chemical convention) cannot remain without consequences,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters as he arrived at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

Western governments and Nato have said Russia, which has denied accusations by Navalny that it was involved in poisoning him in August, must help in investigations or face consequences.

Navalny fell ill on a flight in Siberia on Aug 20, and was subsequently airlifted to Berlin for treatment.

“France and Germany propose imposing sanctions on certain people that caught our eye in this respect,” Maas said, without giving details.

Diplomats say the two countries plan to propose sanctions on several Russian GRU military intelligence officials.

The speed with which Europe’s two main powers have agreed to push ahead with sanctions suggested a hardening of the bloc’s diplomacy towards Moscow. It contrasts to 2018, when it took almost a year for the EU to agree sanctions against Russians following a nerve agent attack on a Russian spy in Britain.

Austria’s foreign minister, Alexander Schallenberg, whose country is one of Russia’s closest allies in the bloc, said there could not be a “return to business as usual” and that Moscow had failed to help clear up doubts about the poisoning.

Blood samples taken from Navalny confirmed the presence of a nerve agent from the banned Novichok family, the OPCW said last week.