German authorities said that tests showed that Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny had been poisoned with a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has condemned the “appalling assassination attempt” on Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny and called on Moscow to answer questions about the poisoning to international investigators.
Navalny, a Kremlin critic and corruption investigator, fell ill on a flight to Moscow on August 20 and was taken to a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk. He has been in an induced coma in a Berlin hospital since he was flown to Germany for treatment more than a week ago.
German authorities have said that tests showed that he had been poisoned with a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group.
“There is proof beyond doubt that Mr Navalny was poisoned using a military-grade nerve agent from the Novichok group. The use of such a weapon is horrific,” Stoltenberg said after chairing a meeting of NATO ambassadors during which Germany briefed its allies on developments.
“Any use of chemical weapons shows a total disrespect for human lives and is an unacceptable breach of international norms and rules."
US has seen 'no proof yet'
US President Donald Trump said on Friday that he had not yet seen proof that Russian opposition leader Navalny had been poisoned as stated by Germany.
"I don't know exactly what happened. I think it's tragic, it's terrible, it shouldn't happen," Trump said.
"We haven't had any proof yet, but I will take a look at it," Trump said in a press conference."
Trump said he had heard that Germany had made a finding that Navalny, who fell ill on a Siberian flight last month, had been poisoned with the deadly Novichok nerve agent.
"We have not seen it ourselves," Trump said of the evidence from German investigators.
Based on what Germany is saying that seems to be the case, he added.
"I would be very angry if that's the case," he said.
NATO urges Russia cooperation
NATO allies have agreed that Russia must cooperate fully with an impartial investigation to be led by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into the poisoning of Navalny.
Russia has until now not opened a criminal investigation and said there is no evidence yet of a crime.
"NATO allies agree that Russia now has serious questions it must answer. The Russian government must fully cooperate with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on an impartial international investigation," Stoltenberg said, reporting back from a meeting of the alliance's ambassadors.
Navalny is the most popular and prominent opponent of President Vladimir Putin.
The announcement by Germany this week that Navalny was poisoned by a nerve agent raises possibilities of further Western sanctions against Moscow.
Calls for an OPCW probe
Stoltenberg said the NATO allies called on Moscow to provide complete disclosure of the Novichok programme to the OPCW.
The infamous Soviet-era nerve agent that was used against Russian ex-double agent Skripal and his daughter in England led to seven Kremlin diplomats' expulsion from their NATO mission.
While Stoltenberg did not rule out a similar reprisal this time, he stressed that the Navalny poisoning, which took place in Russia, was quite different from the Skripal attack, which happened on the soil of a NATO member.
"We strongly believe that this is a blatant violation of international law, so it requires an international response but I will not now speculate about exactly what kind of international response," he said.
"Those responsible for this attack must be held accountable and brought to justice. Time and again we have seen opposition leaders and critics of the Russian regime attacked and their lives threatened. Some have even been killed," he said.
Describing the Navalny case as "an attack on fundamental democratic rights" as well as on an individual, he said NATO allies would continue to consult on the incident and "consider the implication."
The EU and other international powers have also called for an OPCW probe, voicing scepticism that Russia would investigate Navalny's poisoning properly.
Indeed, the Kremlin has already insisted the Russian state cannot be blamed and on Friday a Russian toxicologist said Navalny's health could have deteriorated due to dieting or stress.
Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev said he saw no grounds, for now, to suspect a crime has been committed in the case of Navalny, Interfax news agency reported on Friday.