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President Donald Trump has said he refuses to condemn Russia for poisoning opposition leader Alexei Navalny, saying he has seen no evidence.
He said the case was “tragic”, but urged reporters to focus instead on China, which he said is a greater threat to the world than Russia.
Germany and NATO say there is “indisputable evidence” that Alexei Navalny was attacked by the nerve agent Novichok.
Alexei Navalny’s team says he was poisoned by order of the Kremlin. Russia, however, denies this.
On September 5, the Russian Foreign Ministry suggested that if a Novice-type nerve agent had indeed been used, it would not necessarily have originated in Russia.
Alexei Navalny – an anti-corruption campaign that has long been the most prominent figure in President Vladimir Putin’s opposition in Russia – is in a coma in a Berlin hospital after being airlifted from Siberia, where he fell ill.
During a news conference on Sept. 4, President Trump said he had not yet seen evidence of poisoning in the case.
He said: “So I don’t know exactly what happened.” I think it’s tragic, it’s awful, it shouldn’t happen. We don’t have the evidence yet, but I’ll take a look. “
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President Trump also stopped criticizing Vladimir Putin and said Beijing posed a greater threat.
He said: “It’s interesting that everyone always mentions Russia, and I don’t mind you mentioning Russia, but I think China is probably a nation at this point that you need to talk about a lot more.”
Tests at a military laboratory in Germany show “without a doubt” the presence of nerve agent Novichok, say the German government and NATO.
In September, NATO called on Russia to disclose its Novichok nerve agent program to international observers. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said members were united in condemning the “horrific” attack on Alexei Navalny.
Jens Stoltenberg said an international response was required, but gave no further details.
The US National Security Council has promised to “work with allies and the international community to hold those in Russia accountable.”
A brief statement issued by the foreign ministry on September 5th noted “numerous hostile statements made against Russia” about Alexei Navalny’s illness.
According to experts from Western countries and NATO, we have been working for years on compounds used to produce Novichok’s nerve agents.
“For example, in the United States, more than 150 patents have been officially issued to technology developers for their combat use.” said the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Under the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention, Russia and the United States have committed themselves to eliminating all their nerve agents and other chemical weapons. The United States is expected to destroy its final stockpile by the end of 2023, while Russia officially completes the process in 2017.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied involvement in the case of Alexei Navalny.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Germany had not yet shared its findings with Moscow prosecutors and said Russia had “nothing to hide”.
Meanwhile, a toxicologist in Omsk – where Alexei Navalny was initially treated after an emergency landing on the plane he was flying – insists that doctors who examined him there did not find the poison.
“All external factors could have caused a sudden deterioration. Even a simple lack of breakfast “ said Alexander Sabayev, chief toxicologist for the Omsk region.
Alexei Navalny fell ill last month during a flight from Siberia to Moscow.
The plane crashed in Omsk and Russian officials were persuaded to allow it to be flown to Germany two days later.
A nerve agent from the Novichok group, identified by Germany in the Navalny case, was also used to poison former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. They both survive, but a local woman, Dawn Sturgess, dies after contact with the poison.