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Scholz praises Navalny 2 years after poisoning

August 20, 2022

The German chancellor said Putin critic Alexei Navalny is a "courageous man" who returned to Russia to fight for democracy after the 2020 Novichok poisoning.

Jailed opposition activist Alexei Navalny appears in court via videolink on March 22, 2022
After recovering from the poisoning, Alexei Navalny returned to Russia where he was promptly jailedImage: Sergei Karpukhin/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz praised the courage of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny on Saturday, two years after his poisoning from a Soviet-era nerve agent.

The 46-year-old activist is now in a maximum-security penal colony, having returned to Russia from Germany where he was hospitalized after the attack.

Despite strong evidence pointing towards the work of Russian intelligence agents, Moscow has denied responsibility for the poisoning.

What did Scholz say?

In a video message to mark the occasion, Scholz noted how the Putin critic had "barely survived the assassination attempt," but was able to recover at a Berlin hospital.

"I spoke with him during this time and got to know a courageous man who returned to Russia because he wanted to fight for democracy, freedom and the rule of law," the chancellor added. 

On Navalny's return, however, he was immediately imprisoned on charges his supporters say were trumped up in an attempt to quash his political ambitions.

The Putin critic is currently serving 11 1/2 years in jail on charges of fraud and contempt of court and fears he will face further charges and an even longer prison term.

Scholz said the incident has become more pertinent since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

"Freedom and democracy [in Russia] were already endangered before. But now, freedom of expression is much more endangered and many fear to give their own opinion," the chancellor added.

That is why it was so important to remember Navalny, Scholz said, since he was fighting for his belief that "one lives best in a democracy and state governed by the rule of law."

A photo of the penal colony in Vladimir when Navalny is being held
Navalny is serving his sentence at a strict-regime penal colony some 250 kilometers from MoscowImage: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP

Navalny marks his second, second birthday

In a 10-part Twitter thread, Navalny said Saturday was "the second time I celebrate my second birthday."

He said August 20, 2020, was "the day they tried to kill me, but for some reason, I didn't die."

The anti-corruption activist wrote that no criminal case was ever opened into the poisoning, despite President Vladimir Putin's promises to investigate. Instead, he said, the Kremlin blamed Western secret services.

Navalny also said that almost everyone who took part in the poisoning had been "identified," and that they were all officers of the FSB intelligence agency.

"This whole situation has exposed both Putin himself and his system  ... not only the criminality but also the dysfunctionality and failure of his regime."

He said that a few months later Russia's political system had "discarded any disguise and by the end of January 2021, it has become completely repressive and authoritarian."

US, EU demand probe, Navalny's release

The European Union's top diplomat Josep Borrell marked the anniversary by saying the bloc "continues to condemn in the strongest possible terms the attempt to assassinate Mr. Navalny through poisoning using a military chemical nerve agent of the 'Novichok' group."

He called on Moscow to investigate the incident transparently without further delay.

The US State Department called for Navalny's immediate release and condemned the Russian government's crackdown on opposition figures and independent media.

"It is no coincidence that the Kremlin's aggression in Ukraine has been accompanied by intensified repression at home," spokesman Ned Price said, noting how the Russian people are being fed disinformation about the Ukraine war.

mm/dj (AP, dpa, Reuters)