President Donald Trump has announced he refuses to condemn Russia over the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, saying he has not seen proof.
He said the case was “tragic” but urged reporters to focus instead on China, which he said was a bigger threat to the world than Russia.
Germany and NATO say there is “proof beyond doubt” that Alexei Navalny was attacked with a Novichok nerve agent.
Alexei Navalny’s team says he was poisoned on the Kremlin’s orders. However, Russia denies this.
On September 5, the Russian foreign ministry suggested that if a Novichok-type nerve agent had indeed been used, it did not necessarily originate in Russia.
Alexei Navalny – an anti-corruption campaigner who has long been the most prominent face of opposition to President Vladimir Putin in Russia – is in a coma in a Berlin hospital having been airlifted there from Siberia, where he fell ill.
Speaking at a press event on September 4, President Trump said he had yet to see evidence of poisoning in the case.
He said: “So I don’t know exactly what happened. I think it’s tragic, it’s terrible, it shouldn’t happen. We haven’t had any proof yet but I will take a look.”
President Trump also stopped short of criticizing Vladimir Putin and said Beijing posed a greater threat.
He said: “It is interesting that everybody’s always mentioning Russia and I don’t mind you mentioning Russia but I think probably China at this point is a nation that you should be talking about much more so.”
Tests at a military laboratory in Germany show “beyond doubt” the presence of a Novichok nerve agent, the German government and NATO say.
On September, NATO called for Russia to disclose its Novichok nerve agent program to international monitors. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said members were united in condemning the “horrific” attack on Alexei Navalny.
Jens Stoltenberg said it required an international response, but gave no further details.
The US National Security Council has pledged to “work with allies and the international community to hold those in Russia accountable”.
The brief statement released by the foreign ministry on September 5 noted “multiple hostile statements made against Russia” over Alexei Navalny’s illness.
However, experts in Western states and NATO had, it said, for years worked on compounds used to make Novichok nerve agents.
“For example, in the USA, over 150 patents were officially issued to developers of technologies for their combat use,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
Under the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention, Russia and the US committed themselves to eliminating all of their nerve agents and other chemical weapons. The US is expected to destroy its final stockpile be the end of 2023 while Russia officially completed the process in 2017.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in Alexei Navalny’s case.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Germany had not yet shared any findings with Moscow prosecutors and said Russia had “nothing to hide”.
Meanwhile a toxicologist in Omsk – where Alexei Navalny was initially treated after the plane he was flying on made an emergency landing – insisted no poison had been found by doctors who examined him there.
“Any external factors could have triggered a sudden deterioration. Even a simple lack of breakfast,” said Alexander Sabayev, chief toxicologist for the Omsk region.
Alexei Navalny fell ill last month while on a flight from Siberia to Moscow.
The plane made an emergency landing in Omsk and Russian officials were persuaded to allow him to be airlifted to Germany two days later.
A nerve agent from the Novichok group identified by Germany in the Navalny case was also used to poison ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. They both survived but a local woman, Dawn Sturgess, died after coming into contact with the poison.
Vladimir Putin and his wife of 30 years Lyudmila Putina had gone on national television to tell the world their marriage was over.
But it appears many Russians still refusing to believe that a Russian president could even contemplate getting a divorce.
People think that Vladimir Putin, 60, and his 55-year-old wife had responsibilities to the Russian people and to God and could never divorce.
Such disbelief is understandable after all, it’s 300 years since the last time a Russian leader annulled his marriage.
That was Peter the Great, who dispatched his spouse to a nunnery.
Vladimir Putin and Lyudmila Putina interview, during an interval at the ballet, was the strangest affair and came across as highly stage-managed.
Up until this interview, the private life of Vladimir Putin had been taboo for Russia’s state media.
Reporters would never dare to ask the Kremlin leader about his marital problems.
Vladimir Putin and his wife of 30 years Lyudmila Putina had gone on national television to tell the world their marriage was over
On Thursday night, though, a state television correspondent posed the hitherto unthinkable questions: was it true that the president and his wife were living apart? Were they divorced?
It’s hard to believe such uncomfortable quizzing could have gone ahead without official say-so.
The reporter sounded nervous; at one point she apologized for mentioning the D-word – “divorce”.
So why is the marriage over?
Judging from what was said in the interview, it comes down to Vladimir Putin spending too much time at work and Lyudmila Putina’s loathing of being in the public eye. But could there be another reason?
On Moscow radio, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked about “rumors” that another woman had come into the president’s life. Dmitry Peskov denied it, dismissing claims as “gossip, rumors and speculation”.
It’s unclear how the divorce will affect Russia’s perception of their president.
Some Russians will clearly be disappointed that the Kremlin leader is pushing ahead with plans for a divorce.
Yesterday’s edition of Izvestia warns that President Vladimir Putin risks alienating a key section of his supporters – married women.
And yet there has been a degree of sympathy and support for Vladimir Putin in the media and in blogosphere; some Russians praise him for being honest about his private life and his marital problems, and for showing that a Russian president is no demigod: he’s just human, like everyone else.
President Vladimir Putin is beginning a three-day visit to China, with energy and foreign policy expected to dominate the agenda.
The Russian president said ahead of the trip that he wanted to further boost booming bilateral trade, which reached $84 billion last year.
The Syrian crisis is also expected to be discussed during the talks.
Russia and China have resisted Western pressure to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power amid ongoing unrest.
China’s envoy to the UN, Li Baodong, has described Syria as one of the most pressing issues on the agenda of the Security Council.
Beijing currently holds the council’s rotating presidency, and Li Baodong urged all parties to immediately implement the peace plan of UN envoy Kofi Annan.
President Vladimir Putin is beginning a three-day visit to China, with energy and foreign policy expected to dominate the agenda
Syria’s rebel Free Syrian Army said on Monday it was no longer committed to the nominal ceasefire.
Spokesman Sami al-Kurdi told Reuters news agency the FSA had begun attacking soldiers to “defend our people”.
Vladimir Putin will hold extensive talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao later on Tuesday.
The Russian leader is taking to Beijing six cabinet ministers, the head of gas giant Gazprom and other energy companies.
Some 17 major business and trade deals between Russia and China are expected to be signed in Beijing, Vladimir Putin’s aides say.
But it remains unclear whether this will include a long-awaited gas agreement that would allow Moscow to supply some 70 billion cubic metres of gas to its neighbor.
Latest reports suggest that pricing disagreements remain between Russia, the world’s biggest energy producer, and China, the largest consumer of energy.
On the eve of the visit, Vladimir Putin told China’s state media that he wanted to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion in 2015 and $200 billion by 2020.
He said the target could be achieved “ahead of schedule”.
On Wednesday, Vladimir Putin will meet Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, who is tipped to be the next premier, and Xi Jinping, who is expected to become next president after a stage-managed leadership change later this year.
While in China, Vladimir Putin will also attend a regional security summit on Thursday.