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OPCW confirms nerve agent in Navalny attack

Germany and France pushed for E.U. sanctions on Russia after OPCW confirmed Russia's Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent.

Germany and France pushed for European Union sanctions against Russia on Wednesday, a day after the international organization that investigates chemical weapons attacks confirmed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent.

As the E.U.'s two most powerful drivers of foreign policy, Germany and France said "this atrocious attempted murder seriously undermines the basic principles of democracy and political pluralism," and Russian involvement is the only plausible way to explain it.

"It is another shocking case of use of a chemical weapon, two years after a similar weapon was used by Russia on British territory, in Salisbury, on 4 March 2018," Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in their joint statement.

"No credible explanation has been provided by Russia so far. In this context, we consider that there is no other plausible explanation for Mr. Navalny’s poisoning than a Russian involvement and responsibility," they said. "France and Germany will share with European partners proposals for additional sanctions."

Their proposals for E.U. adoption will seek to target "individuals deemed responsible for this crime and breach of international norms, based on their official function, as well as an entity involved in the Novichok program."

On Tuesday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, said in a report to Germany its analysis of samples taken from Navalny confirmed results from other lab exams in Germany, Sweden and France that he was attacked with a military-grade nerve agent.

OPCW said after getting results back from two testing labs it has concluded that Navalny, who investigates corruption and is an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was attacked with a Novichok chemical agent on August 20 during a flight in Russia.

"The biomarkers of the cholinesterase inhibitor found in Mr. Navalny’s blood and urine samples have similar structural characteristics as the toxic chemicals" forbidden in a treaty annex that includes sarin, sulfur mustards and ricin, said OPCW and its director-general, Fernando Arias, in a statement. "These results constitute a matter of grave concern."

Navalny was flown to Germany two days after falling ill. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said more time was needed to review the OPCW report before officials would provide any comment, Russian state news agency Tass reported.

"We do not have this information yet," he was quoted as saying. "There needs to be some time to hand it over through diplomatic channels and for us to receive this information."

An appalling 'repeat'

At a meeting of OPCW's executive council, Germany demanded that Russia investigate the poisoning.

“It is up to Russia — where the chemical attack occurred — to shed light on the incident, and to provide an explanation on how a chemical nerve agent came to be used in a reckless act against a Russian citizen on Russian soil,” Gudrun Lingner, who represents Germany at OPCW, said in a statement. “Up to now, the Russian Federation has not provided any credible explanation.”

Britain also supported Germany's insistence on an investigation. The U.K. government also noted that Russia had used a Novichok nerve agent in an attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury two years ago.

“It is less than three years since we saw first hand the deadly consequences of Novichok used as a chemical weapon in the United Kingdom,” said Nicola Stewart, who represents Britain at OPCW. “We are appalled that there should have been a repeat anywhere in the world.”

OPCW, which has 193 member nations, was created to oversee the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention that banned chemical weapons. Based on the report to Germany, Romania delivered a statement to the executive council on behalf of 44 OPCW member nations that condemn the attack.

"Any poisoning of an individual through the use of a nerve agent is considered a use of a chemical weapon," the nations, including Britain and Germany, said. "We urge the Russian Federation, on whose territory the attack took place, to investigate and to disclose in a swift and transparent manner the circumstances of this chemical weapons attack."