MOSCOW • The Kremlin yesterday rejected accusations that Russia had been responsible for the poisoning of opposition politician Alexei Navalny and said it saw no grounds for sanctions to be imposed against Moscow over the case.
The Kremlin was speaking a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Mr Navalny had been poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent in an attempt to murder him.
Mr Navalny, 44, is an outspoken opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has specialised in high-impact investigations into official corruption.
He was airlifted to a hospital in Berlin, Germany, late last month after collapsing on a domestic Russian flight after drinking a cup of tea - that his allies said was poisoned - at an airport cafe.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow rejected any suggestion that Russia had been behind the attack on Mr Navalny and warned other countries against jumping to hasty conclusions.
"There are no grounds to accuse the Russian state. And we are not inclined to accept any accusations in this respect," he said, adding that there was therefore no reason to discuss sanctions against Moscow.
Dr Merkel has said that Germany would consult its Nato allies about how to respond to the poisoning and that decisions on any sanctions against Russia depended on Moscow's reaction.
European Union countries yesterday began discussing their response, but warned it was too early to impose new sanctions until an investigation identified the culprit.
Russia must carry out a "thorough, transparent" investigation into the case, which is only the latest episode in a long line of defectors and critics of Mr Putin being poisoned in suspicious circumstances, EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said.
"We want to see those responsible brought to justice, but for that, the investigation needs to be launched and needs to bring results," he said. "We are not there yet so it's difficult to speak about punishment if you don't have the (person) responsible."
Dr Merkel faced growing pressure yesterday to reconsider the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will carry gas from Russia to Germany, after her statement on Mr Navalny
There are no grounds to accuse the Russian state. And we are not inclined to accept any accusations in this respect.
MR DMITRY PESKOV, spokesman for the Kremlin, speaking a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said that a Soviet-style nerve agent was used against opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
Nord Stream 2 - which is set to double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline in carrying gas directly from Russia to Germany - is already more than 90 per cent completed and due to operate from early next year.
Mr Peskov said the Kremlin regarded talk of taking action against the pipeline as being based on emotions. He said the project was a commercial one that benefited Russia, Germany and Europe, and rejected the premise that Russia deserved to be sanctioned over the case.
"We don't understand what the reason for any sanctions could be," Mr Peskov said.
He said Russia wanted to get to the bottom of what had happened to Mr Navalny as well, adding that poisoning him was not to anyone's advantage.
"I don't think that anyone could benefit from this," he said.
Mr Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, said yesterday that Moscow could not exclude that Western special forces might be behind Mr Navalny's poisoning.
He added that no traces of poison had been found by Russian doctors.
Mr Navalny remains in the intensive care unit and on a ventilator at the Charite hospital in Berlin.
Doctors said that over time the body can clear out the nerve agent, which disrupts communication between the brain, the main organs and muscles, but that recovery is likely to be lengthy.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE