BERLIN — Angela Merkel demanded a joint EU reaction to the poisoning of Russia opposition leader Alexei Navalny, saying the bloc must produce a similar response to the aftermath of the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal in the U.K. 2018. But the German chancellor said the case should not impact on the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.
Navalny remains in a medically induced coma in a Berlin hospital after falling ill on a flight to Moscow last week. Doctors there said he had been poisoned with a substance that affects the central nervous system.
The German chancellor advocated a collective European reaction to the case in her annual summer press conference in the German capital. “I believe that we have the duty to do everything possible to enlighten this … Now we will try to bring about enlightenment with our possibilities, which are indeed limited. And we will also try, when we have more clarity about the background, to have a European reaction similar to Mr. Skripal, not only national reactions. It is not only a German problem, even if Germany has now admitted Mr. Navalny,” she told reporters Friday.
In the Skripal case, the British government blamed Russian agents for poisoning the former Russian spy and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury using the sophisticated nerve agent Novichok. The U.S. and 17 EU countries (including the U.K.) expelled a total of over 100 Russian diplomats in response to the attempted killings. In evoking the Skripal case, it was not immediately clear whether Merkel was advocating a similarly robust diplomatic response against Russia.
So far EU countries have condemned the alleged poisoning and called for transparency from Russia but have yet to announce sanctions or any other concrete action.
Merkel though was adamant that the case should not impact on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, an undersea conduit under the Baltic that will bring gas from Russia to Germany. The project has been criticized by the U.S. and Germany’s Eastern neighbours.
“I think that we should see [the Navalny case] decoupled from that. Our opinion is that Nord Stream 2 should be completed,” said Merkel, “After all, this is a project that is being driven by economic players from Russia and Europe. This means that although it has political implications — which is why we have also advocated and will continue to advocate a transit agreement for gas supplies between Russia and Ukraine — I do not think it is appropriate to link this economically driven project with the Navalny issue.”