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Germany has said there is “unequivocal proof” that Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny was poised with a Novichok nerve agent. Chancellor Angela Merkel said Mr Navalny was a victim of attempted murder and that the world would now look to Russia for answers. A staunch critic of Vladimir Putin, Mr Navalny was flown to Berlin last month after falling ill on a flight to Siberia.
His team claims he was poisoned on Putin’s orders.
The Kremlin has now called on Germany for a full exchange of information, as foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova complained the Novichok allegations were not backed up by evidence as she asked: “Where are the facts, where are the formulas, at least some kind of information?”
Tensions could now sour between Germany and Russia, not least with much of the world stage claiming the incident proves Mrs Merkel should terminate a multi-billion pound pipeline deal with Putin, known as Nord Stream 2.
The US was already attempting to keep the pipeline on ice, with President Donald Trump having threatened Germany and other European nations who support the pipeline with strict sanctions should it go ahead.
Nord Stream 2 is thought to be around 94 percent completed.
But despite the criticism, many have now noted that Mrs Merkel is left with little choice but to continue with the project or face hugely negative economic consequences.
The project in its entirety will total to €9.5billion (£8.4billion).
Moscow’s state-owned Gazprom is the project’s sole shareholder and has committed to providing up to 50 percent of the project’s financing, with the remaining funds coming from German, Dutch, French and Austrian firms.
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Now, many German politicians and diplomats have said that a direct and European response to Mr Navalny’s poisoning, that includes Nord Stream 2, must be taken.
Norbert Roettgen, head of Germany’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told a German radio station on Thursday morning: “We must pursue hard politics, we must respond with the only language Putin understands – that is gas sales.”
Despite this, Mrs Merkel appears to be resisting calls to scrap the pipeline.
Last week, she said Germany has a duty to get to the bottom of Mr Navalny’s poisoning but should not link the case to Nord Stream 2.
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Many cited her unwillingness indicative of fears over economic rebuke.
At her annual summer news conference last week, Mrs Merkel said: “We have an obligation to do everything so that this can be cleared up.
“It was right and good that Germany said we were prepared … to take in Mr Navalny. And now we will try to get this cleared up with the possibilities we have, which are indeed limited.
“Our opinion is that Nord Stream 2 should be completed.
“I don’t think it is appropriate to link this business-operated project with the Navalny question.”
Added to the concerns is Germany’s growing dependence on Russian natural gas.
The country already enjoys a direct link to Russia via the first Nord Stream pipeline that was completed in 2012.
Other nations like France also receive gas from the first pipeline, but alongside Germany have consistently shrugged off fears of becoming dependent on Moscow.
The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also issued stark warnings to Ms Merkel and other countries involved in the pipeline.
He gave Germany a message in July over the pipeline: ““Get out now, or risk the consequences.”
The US’ main fears are that Russia could translate gas gatekeeping into political leverage in Europe.
Russia has long played a critical role in powering Europe’s economy through its vast natural gas supplies.
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