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World News

France puts off strategic talks with Russia over Navalny case

PARIS (Reuters) - France has postponed a visit to Moscow next week by its foreign and armed forces ministers as European powers seek answers from Russia to Germany’s findings that Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was poisoned.

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a video conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 26, 2020. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS

Navalny, who is being treated in a Berlin hospital, was airlifted to Germany after falling ill on a Russian domestic flight last month. Germany says he was poisoned with a nerve agent. Russia has said it has seen no evidence that Navalny was poisoned.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian and Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly had been due to go to Moscow as President Emmanuel Macron tries to reduce distrust between Russia and the West, hoping to enlist Russian help in solving the world’s most intractable crises.

“Given the current circumstances and after an exchange with Russian authorities, the Franco-Russian council on security cooperation has been postponed to a later date,” French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said.

France’s Armed Forces Ministry had on Thursday tweeted that the talks would go ahead as planned on Sept. 14, but over the weekend Le Drian demanded that Russia explain how a Kremlin opponent could be poisoned on its territory with a nerve agent.

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“We would not be credible if we held the talks in the current climate,” a French diplomat said.

After a four-year freeze on such high-level diplomatic visits following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its backing for separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine, Macron sent his defence and foreign ministers to Moscow a year ago.

He also appointed a special envoy to make progress on a so-called five-point structured dialogue that he proposed to President Vladimir Putin.

His efforts have upset other European Union member states who say little has changed to merit a thaw in relations.

Parly acknowledged in July that efforts to develop a new relationship with Russia and bring Moscow back into the fold of leading industrialised nations had yet to yield results.

Reporting by John Irish, Editing by Timothy Heritage

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