Austria's Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg has cautioned in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung against linking the case of the alleged poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny with the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. He said countries should not abandon the project just because suspicions have emerged that the Kremlin may have poisoned the activist, recalling that European countries have had major disagreements with Moscow in the past.
"You have to be careful not to throw everything in one pile. If you recall the events in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine, you will remember that [the EU] managed to separate issues in the past. We have always responded accurately to those actions of Moscow that were unacceptable for us. There will certainly be a discussion [on Navalny's alleged poisoning], but I believe that it should be conducted cum grano salis [with a pinch of salt]", Schallenberg said.
The foreign minister went on to add that depending on the results of the investigation into the matter, the EU may consider imposing new sanctions against Moscow. He noted, however, that all the accusations must be substantiated with evidence and not simply be spoken out loud.
Navalny's Alleged 'Poisoning'
Russian political activist Alexei Navalny was rushed to hospital in Omsk after falling gravely ill on a Moscow-bound plane. He fell into a coma and remained in serious condition as medics fought for 44 hours to stabilise him. His spokesperson was quick to suggest that he was poisoned, but the results of all the tests that were taken at the hospital returned without showing any traces of poison. The doctors made a preliminary conclusion that a sudden and rapid drop in glucose due to a metabolic imbalance was to blame.
After his condition became more stable, Navalny's relatives requested permission for him to be transported to a clinic in Germany. German medics said they found traces of cholinesterase inhibitors in the patient's blood, despite the Russian doctors not finding any during his initial hospitalisation. Over a week later, German authorities announced that the Russian opposition figure had likely been poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent from the Novichok group – the substance allegedly used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
Just as was the case with the poisoning of the Skripals, authorities were quick to suspect Moscow of being behind the act, demanding that it provide an explanation and cooperate with the investigation into Navalny's case, threatening Russia with new sanctions. The Kremlin has refused to comment on the issue before it receives concrete information and documents regarding the alleged poisoning from Germany. Russia's Foreign Ministry said that so far, Berlin has failed to provide any substantial information supporting its accusations, despite Moscow's requests.