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In hardening stance, France, Germany push for EU sanctions on Russians over Navalny poisoning

PARIS/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - France and Germany said on Wednesday they would propose European Union sanctions against Russian individuals after receiving no credible answers from Moscow over the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent.

FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder and to protest against proposed amendments to the country's constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Several Western governments have said Russia, which has denied accusations by Navalny that it was involved in poisoning him in August, must help in investigations or face consequences.

The decision and speed with which Europe’s two main powers agreed to push ahead with sanctions suggested a hardening of the bloc’s diplomacy towards Moscow, which in turn said that it no longer considered “business as usual” to be possible with Berlin and Paris.

The move is in stark contrast to 2018 when it took almost a year for members to agree on sanctions against Russian individuals following a nerve agent attack on a Russian spy in Britain.

“No credible explanation has been provided by Russia so far. In this context, we consider that there is no other plausible explanation for Mr Navalny’s poisoning than a Russian involvement and responsibility,” Foreign Ministers Jean-Yves Le Drian and Heiko Maas said in a joint statement.

Diplomats had earlier told Reuters the two countries would propose sanctions on Russian GRU military intelligence officials when the EU’s 27 foreign ministers meet on Oct. 12.

“Drawing the necessary conclusions from these facts, France and Germany will share with European partners proposals for additional sanctions,” the two ministers said.

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“Proposals will target individuals deemed responsible for this crime and breach of international norms, based on their official function, as well as an entity involved in the Novichok programme.”

Blood samples taken from Navalny confirmed the presence of a nerve agent from the banned Novichok family, the global chemical weapons watchdog said on Tuesday.

“Instead of appropriate cooperation with the Russian Federation in the interest of clarifying circumstances of what has happened to the blogger, the governments of Germany and France have now switched to threats and attempts to blackmail us,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Paris and Berlin are unwilling to take into account facts that Russia has voiced many times, Zakharova said, without naming the facts.

“We don’t consider ‘business as usual’ to be possible with Berlin or Paris,” she said in comments published on the foreign ministry’s website.

EU foreign ministers are expected to give their political support on Monday, but the sanctions are not expected to be approved immediately as legal texts must be prepared and cleared by experts from the 27 EU states.

Le Drian told a parliamentary committee in Paris on Wednesday: “We say with Germany that clarification by Russia is indispensable and if it doesn’t clarify then we will need to draw conclusions among Europeans. We are in sync with Germany.”

He said Paris was not closing the door to dialogue with Moscow.

Additional reporting Michel Rose in Paris, Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow and Andreas Rinke and Thomas Escritt in Berlin; Editing by Hugh Lawson/Janet Lawrence and Grant McCool

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