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Navalny demands EU crackdown on oligarchs close to Kremlin

BERLIN (Reuters) - Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny called on the European Union on Wednesday to take tough action against oligarchs close to the Kremlin as he continues his recovery in Germany after being poisoned by a nerve agent of the banned Novichok family.

FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks with journalists after he was released from a detention centre in Moscow, Russia August 23, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Germany has said it will agree with EU partners in coming days what action to take after the global chemicals watchdog confirmed Navalny was poisoned with a new, undeclared variant in the Novichok group of toxins.

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

“Sanctions against the whole country don’t work. The most important thing is to impose entry bans on profiteers of the regime and freeze their assets,” Navalny told German daily Bild.

“They embezzle money, steal billions and at the weekend they fly to Berlin or London, buy expensive apartments and sit in cafes,” he said.

He singled out Valery Gergiev, chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, as a target for sanctions, saying he was a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a statement, the orchestra said Gergiev did not wish to comment on the Bild article.

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Options for action include targeted asset freezes or travel bans on Russians deemed to be involved in the Navalny case, economic sanctions, and halting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that is being built to carry gas directly from Russia to Germany.

“TARGETED” SANCTIONS

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told parliament that without an explanation from Russia, “targeted and proportionate sanctions against those responsible are unavoidable” and a list of individuals could be drawn up quickly.

Navalny was flown to Berlin for treatment after taking ill on a flight in Siberia on Aug. 20. He says he wants to return to Russia.

Scathing about what he said was Russia’s failure to help in the investigation, he told Bild: “There is not even an attempt to make it look like they are investigating.”

Navalny also criticised former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a friend of Putin and lobbyist for Russian energy firms, calling him “an errand boy for Putin who protects murderers”.

Responding, Schroeder said the poison attack must be transparently cleared up by Russian authorities. He did not comment directly on Navalny’s description of him.

Additional reporting by Paul Carrel; Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Giles Elgood and Gareth Jones

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