Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who Germany says was poisoned by a weapons-grade Novichok nerve agent, is now out of a medically induced coma and being weaned off mechanical ventilation.
The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner and one of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, fell ill on a domestic flight last month and was treated in a Siberian hospital before being evacuated to Berlin.
“He is responding to verbal stimuli,” Charite hospital, where he is being treated in Berlin, said in a statement on Monday, adding that the 44-year old’s condition “has improved”.
However, the hospital said it was too early to determine the long-term effect of the poisoning.
Germany said last week toxicology tests conducted by its armed forces found “unequivocal evidence” that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok – the substance used in a 2018 attack on a former Russian double agent and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas then summoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Nechayev in protest and called for a full and transparent investigation.
Navalny’s associates say the use of Novichok, a Soviet-era military-grade nerve agent, shows only the Russian state could be responsible, but the Kremlin fiercely denies any involvement.
“Attempts to somehow associate Russia with what happened are unacceptable to us, they are absurd,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Monday.
Russian officials have accused Germany of being slow to share the findings of its investigation, despite a request from prosecutors.
“We expect information [from Germany] to be provided in the coming days,” Peskov said. “We are looking forward to it.”
Western leaders have expressed concern at what Navalny’s allies say is the first known use of chemical weapons against a high-profile opposition leader on Russian soil.
The United Kingdom’s foreign office summoned the Russian ambassador on Monday, a spokesperson said in a statement.
“The foreign secretary has made it clear that it is absolutely unacceptable that a banned chemical weapon has been used, and that violence has again been directed against a leading Russian opposition figure,” it said.
“There is a case here for Russia to answer. This took place on Russian soil, against a Russian citizen. They have international obligations to uphold. This is nothing short of an attack against the rules based international system which keeps our societies safe.
“Russia needs to conduct a full, transparent criminal investigation into Mr Navalny’s poisoning. We will work with our partners … to hold the perpetrators to account.”
Germany has warned a failure by Moscow to thoroughly investigate the incident could have serious consequences.
Maas said on Sunday Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, will discuss possible sanctions against Russia if the Kremlin does not soon provide an explanation for what happened to Navalny.
Otherwise, Germany will be compelled to “discuss a response with our allies” including “targeted” sanctions, Maas said.
He did not rule out action relating to Nord Stream 2, a 10 billion euro ($11bn) Russian-German gas pipeline nearing completion.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said on Monday she was in agreement with Maas, who is a member of the junior coalition partner Social Democrats.
She too would not rule out consequences for the pipeline beneath the Baltic Sea, which is set to double Russian natural gas shipments to Germany, Europe’s largest economy.
The Navalny poisoning is the latest in a long series of assassination attempts against Kremlin critics. Navalny’s aides have said they suspect he drank a cup of spiked tea at the airport.
The charismatic Yale-educated lawyer was initially treated at a Russian hospital, where doctors said they were unable to find any toxic substances in his blood, before he was flown to Berlin for specialised treatment on August 22.