PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday sought answers from his Russian counterpart regarding the “attempted murder” of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, but Vladimir Putin batted back “unsubstantiated accusations” of poisoning.
After laboratory tests in France and Germany confirmed Navalny had been poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent, Macron told Putin by telephone it was “imperative that all light be shed, without delay, on the circumstances of this attempted murder and who is responsible,” the French presidency said in a statement.
He said that France’s own analysis had confirmed Germany’s conclusion that Navalny was poisoned by a Novichok nerve agent “in contravention of international norms on using chemical weapons.”
The German government said earlier that tests in Sweden also backed the finding that Novichok was used to poison Navalny, the same poison used against the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in 2018.
In Moscow, Putin rejected “unsubstantiated accusations based on nothing,” according to a Kremlin readout of the call.
Macron has been pursuing a policy of rapprochement with Russia, seeking progress notably on ending the conflict in Ukraine — a strategy that has raised eyebrows among some of France’s EU allies.
But analysts say the poisoning of Navalny, who is still in hospital in Germany after falling ill last month on a flight in Siberia, has dealt a heavy blow to Moscow-Paris ties.
France has from the onset backed the tough language of its ally Germany, which warned that suspicion of poisoning will fall on Moscow if it fails to explain what happened.
According to the Elysee, Macron on Monday “expressed his full solidarity with Germany over the steps to be taken and the consequences to be drawn from the situation.”
“Clarification is required from Russia as part of a credible and transparent investigation,” he added.
With Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Russia on Monday for the first time since protests erupted over his disputed election victory last month, Macron and Putin also discussed the situation in Russia’s smaller neighbour.
Macron told Putin, who was to meet Lukashenko in the southern Russian resort of Sochi, that foreign meddling was not welcome in the crisis.
“He (Macron) reaffirmed the need to support a political solution that respects the deep aspirations of the Belarusian people, without outside interference,” the Elysee said.