Paris (CNSNews.com) – French President Emmanuel Macron is pressing his Russian counterpart to explain what he called the attempted assassination of Alexei Navalny, after a French laboratory independently confirmed German findings that the opposition campaigner had been poisoned with a deadly nerve agent.
“A clarification is necessary from Russia as part of a credible and transparent investigation,” Macron told President Vladimir Putin in a video conference call, according to the Elysee palace.
“The president expressed his deep concern over the criminal act perpetrated against Alexeï Navalny and that all light be shed, without delay, on the circumstances and responsibilities of this attempted assassination.”
On the basis of France’s own analysis, it said, Macron said his country shares the conclusion of several European partners that Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, “in contravention of international standards on the use of chemical weapons.”
Navalny, a leading critic of Putin, is receiving treatment in a Berlin hospital after falling dangerously ill during a flight from Siberia to Moscow last month. Officials say his condition remains serious, but continues to improve.
Early this month a German military laboratory concluded that the 44-year old had been poisoned with a Novichok-type nerve agent. Germany then sent samples from the patient to laboratories in France and Sweden.
“The results of the examination by special laboratories in France and Sweden confirm the German evidence,” German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said this week.
“Three laboratories have now independently provided proof that a neurotoxic agent from the Novichok group is the cause of the poisoning of Alexei Navalny.”
France earlier was party to joint European Union and G7 foreign ministers’ statements condemning the Navalny poisoning.
Tatiana Kastueva-Jean, a Russia expert at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris, said Macron himself likely held off on speaking out until the independent evidence was secured.
“Now, with three laboratories including a French one corroborating that it was a Novichok nerve agent, he decided to speak with Putin and demand explanations about the perpetrators.”
Kastueva-Jean noted that Macron has been taking the lead when it comes to E.U. relations with Russia, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel has “stepped back.”
She did not think it likely that Macron’s strong words would change anything, however.
Although there is still dialogue between the E.U. and Russia, with France leading it from the European side, “we cannot expect any concession or changes in Putin’s policies.”
Pointing out that France is Russia’s third largest trading, Kastueva-Jean predicted that Putin will “go on doing what he wants.”
Still, Merkel has raised the possibility that the Navalny incident could have serious implications for a major – and controversial – Russia-Germany gas pipeline project, Nord Stream 2.
Moscow has rejected accusations, responding to the recent G7 statement by saying that “any attempt to associate Russia in any way with what happened is unacceptable.”
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told the European Parliament on Tuesday that the E.U. should consider setting up a sanctions regime for human rights abuses named for Navalny – the same way U.S. lawmakers established the Magnitsky Act, named for the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison in 2009 after accusing Russia officials of committing massive tax fraud.
A Novichok agent was used in the attempted assassination former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in England in 2018. Skripal, his daughter and a police officer affected by the substance also survived, although an unrelated woman died later after accidental exposure.
Britain identified the alleged assailants as members of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service. Moscow to this day denies involvement.