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Germany intensifies pressure on Russia over poisoning of opposition leader Navalny

Germany has moved to toughen sanctions imposed on Russia by the European Union over a nerve agent attack on an opposition leader in Moscow in March.

The government said today that it was launching separate measures targeting some 80 people and companies including the Russian embassy, engineering firm ICOMBA and foreign-owned firms in Moscow.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government said it was suspending talks with Russia on a planned investment treaty and that it would meet the EU’s threat to impose more sanctions unless Moscow reacts to the attack on Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner Sergei Navalny.

“Russia has confirmed that the use of the Novichok nerve agent in Russia represents a clear and serious violation of international law,” read a statement issued by the federal government after consultations with the defence, foreign and finance ministries.

“We have therefore assessed that it is necessary for additional measures against Russia to be introduced in accordance with EU law.”

The measures include a lifting of a high-risk travel list, which Russians involved in the attack on Navalny are believed to have fallen onto, the suspension of bilateral military cooperation and new investments by Russian companies in Russia itself.

Earlier this month, Germany and France increased pressure on Russia to punish Moscow, pushing for the introduction of asset freezes and visa bans against individuals and companies involved in the attack.

Navalny, who had accused President Vladimir Putin of plundering the Russian treasury, was poisoned with the chemical substance, with doctors saying he likely suffered irreversible nerve damage and cannot speak or stand.

European countries have responded strongly to a warning by Russia’s ambassador to the EU, Alexander Orlov, that it would respond to new sanctions at the same time as imposing more of its own against the bloc.

In April, the UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats suspected of being part of the plot against Navalny, which U.S. Ambassador Woody Johnson called a “ridiculous response.”

The diplomatic row has echoed disputes between the West and Russia over the fate of the disappeared Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, which has prompted a temporary recall of UK envoys by the Kremlin.

The London couple were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre on March 4. They have not been seen or heard from since. The Skripals have been charged with attempting to murder a Russian former spy by spraying the Novichok nerve agent onto their front door.

Russian authorities claimed that they may have poisoned themselves as a form of punishment for their work spreading anti-Moscow propaganda.

A senior Russian diplomat said in April that Moscow would place a titanium football order for Britain worth £175 million at the end of 2019 if UK retaliates with new sanctions against Russia.

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier has previously told Russia to return the Skripals to Moscow or face further repercussions, while Theresa May has threatened further sanctions if Moscow does not cooperate in finding the mystery of how the couple ended up on the Skripal’s doorstep.

In order to avoid triggering punitive measures by the EU, Prime Minister Angela Merkel told Putin during their meeting at the St Petersburg Economic Forum in May that those involved in the poisoning would be found and punished, an E.U. spokesman said at the time.

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