Now that it appears that the Russian opposition leader Navalny has been poisoned with the nerve poison Novichok, the call for sanctions against Russia is getting louder and louder. Especially in Germany. The European Union responds with restraint.
“Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Maas have both been tough on Russia. That was solid language that we haven’t seen for a long time in this way,” says Germany correspondent Wouter Zwart. Germany has picked up Navalny from Russia and is therefore an important player. Moreover, the country is now the president of the EU.
“In Germany, there is a constant conflict after controversial Russian actions,” continues Black. From the capture of the Crimea and the war crimes in Syria to the hacking attack on the Bundestag and the murder of a Georgian of Chechen descent in Berlin. “Convictions always follow, but with the handbrake on and then the actions don’t go very far.”
Now German politics and media are clearly calling for the poisoning of Navaly not to be allowed to pass unnoticed. CDU headline Norbert Röttgen demanded a clear answer from the EU this morning. “We have to react hard, Putin is only sensitive to the sale of natural gas.” He thinks the construction of the Russian gas pipeline to Germany, Nord Stream 2, should be stopped.
Commentator Kai Küstner writes that a new course of German foreign policy is inevitable. “Berlin has now blown so high off the tower that actions cannot fail. It will be increasingly difficult to defend Nord Stream 2. But the question is whether the European partners want to go along with it.”
If the Nord Stream 2 project is really stopped it would be quite a blow for Russia, says correspondent David Jan Godfroid. “But it won’t bankrupt them either. The gas could come to Europe anyway, but via Ukraine. Only Russia would like to get off that route.”
Godfroid is convinced that new sanctions will not have consequences in Russia. “Existing sanctions are usually directed against individuals. Their assets abroad will be frozen and they won’t get a visa. Very inconvenient for some people, but it doesn’t change anything at all. Sanctions won’t clarify what happened to Navalny.”
The German call for action is not immediately answered in Brussels. There will be no sanctions for the time being, sounded it today in Brussels. “Because you can’t say yet that Russia was behind it,” explains EU correspondent Bert van Slooten.
“You can’t punish until you know who did it,” continues Van Slooten. “It happened in Russia and Navalny is a Russian citizen. So the EU thinks it’s logical for Russia to conduct its own investigation. That has to be done as openly and transparently as possible.”
“No independent investigation
But that’s not going to happen, thinks Russia correspondent David Jan Godfroid. “Of course, there won’t be an independent investigation. Now the transport police are working on it, later perhaps the national police, but nothing will come of it. Mind you: Germany is talking about Novichok, but we don’t yet know what substance under that collective name it was, where the poison was administered and by whom.”
Does the EU mention a time limit for when the investigation should be completed? “No”, says Van Slooten, “but at some point the EU has to count its buttons. The investigation has to be done as quickly as possible, but also carefully. I’m afraid this may take a while.”
Lithuania wants to discuss the poisoning of Navalny at the next EU summit. It will be held on 24 September.