BERLIN – The global chemical watchdog group has confirmed Germany and other countries' findings that Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was the victim of an attack with a Soviet-era nerve agent, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said Tuesday.
Steffen Seibert said in a statement that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, had carried out its own analysis of samples taken from Navalny, and they "agree with the results already from special laboratories in Germany, Sweden and France.”
Navalny, a corruption investigator who is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic, was flown to Germany two days after falling ill on Aug. 20 during a domestic flight in Russia. German officials said last month that labs found traces of a chemical agent from the Novichok family in the Russian politician’s system.
“This once again confirms unequivocally that Alexei Navalny was the victim of an attack with a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group,” Seibert said.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was just happenstance that German labs had been the first to conclude that Navalny had been poisoned by Novichok because he was being treated in Berlin, and suggested that the OPCW report means Russia can no longer make excuses not to respond.
“The OPCW will make its results, and as far as possible also its analysis, available to all 193 member states,” Maas said. “That is important because it’s not a bilateral issue between Germany and Russia, it’s an international topic — the use of a nerve agent affects the entire international community.”
He added that for Germany, “any use of chemical weapons is completely unacceptable and cannot go unanswered.”
In a statement, OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias called the test results “a matter of grave concern.”
Asked about the watchdog's report in a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from comment, saying that the Kremlin needs to see the report to react.
Seibert said Germany received the OPCW’s report on Monday and was still examining it. Officials were still trying to determine how much of the information could be released to the public without causing a security risk by allowing knowledge of the substance to “fall into the wrong hands.”
He added that Germany would be consulting closely in the coming days with the OPCW and a group of European Union partners to talk about the next steps.
OPCW experts gathered their own samples from Navalny and sent them to two designated labs for tests.
Earlier Tuesday, Germany and its allies at a meeting of the OPCW's Executive Council called on Moscow to fully investigate and explain how Navalny was poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent.
“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,” Germany's representative to the organization, Gudrun Lingner, said in a statement. “Up to now, the Russian Federation has not provided any credible explanation.”
Lingner said that Russian responses so far to calls for clarification about Navalny’s poisoning “seek to obfuscate, to deflect responsibility and to distract from the main point — the use of a military-grade nerve agent.”
The United Kingdom, which accused Russia of using a Novichok nerve agent in a 2018 attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury, supported Germany’s demand for answers.
“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, the U.K.’s deputy permanent representative to the OPCW. “We are appalled that there should have been a repeat anywhere in the world.”
Russia’s statement to the meeting wasn't immediately published online. Moscow has bristled at demands for an investigation, saying that Germany needs to share medical data in the case or compare notes with Russian doctors. Germany has noted that Russian doctors have their own samples from Navalny since he was in their care for 48 hours.
After the OPCW's confirmation, a group of 44 member states including Germany, the U.K., the United States and France delivered a statement at the Executive Council meeting strongly condemning the attack on Navalny.
The U.K. delegation to the organization tweeted a copy of the statement, which also called on Russia “to investigate to disclose in a swift and transparent manner the circumstances of this chemical weapons attack” and share the findings with the OPCW before its next full meeting of member states, scheduled to start on Nov. 30.
Mike Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands.