By Joseph Nasr
BERLIN (Reuters) – A critic of President Vladimir Putin who fell into a coma in Russia and is being treated in Berlin was attacked with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent, a German government spokesman said on Wednesday.
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Tests conducted at a German military laboratory produced "unequivocal evidence" that Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, had been poisoned with Novichok, Steffen Seibert said in an emailed statement.
An agent of the same family was used two years ago to poison a Russian defector living in Britain.
"The federal government will inform its partners in the EU and NATO of the results of the investigation," Seibert added. "It will discuss an appropriate joint response with the partners in the light of the Russian response."
Russia is already under Western sanctions after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine six years ago, and another stand-off with European nations or the United States may hurt its economy further.
Russian prosecutors said last Thursday they saw no need for a criminal investigation as they had found no sign that any crime had been committed.
The Russian ruble extended losses against the euro after the German government statement.
Navalny, 44, was airlifted to Germany late last month after collapsing on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow, which had to make an emergency landing in Omsk.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged Russia to investigate Navalny’s poisoning now that clinical tests had shown he had been attacked with a chemical nerve agent.
"This makes it all the more urgent that those responsible in Russia be identified and held accountable," Maas told reporters. "We condemn this attack in the strongest terms."
A Kremlin spokesman said Germany had not informed it that it believed Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok, according to the RIA news agency.
Novichok is a deadly group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s.
Britain says Russia used Novichok to poison former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British city of Salisbury in 2018. Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack, which the Skripals survived. A member of the public, 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess, was killed.
(Additional reporting by Paul Carrel and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Kevin Liffey)