Kremlin rejects Navalny poisoning accusations, sanctions talk

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin on Thursday rejected accusations that Russia had been responsible for the poisoning of opposition politician Alexei Navalny and said it saw no grounds for sanctions to be imposed against Moscow over the case.

FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a rally to demand the release of jailed protesters, who were detained during opposition demonstrations for fair elections, in Moscow, Russia September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo

The Kremlin was speaking a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Navalny had been poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent in an attempt to murder him.

Navalny, 44, is an outspoken opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has specialised in high-impact investigations into official corruption. He was airlifted to Germany last month after collapsing on a domestic Russian flight after drinking a cup of tea that his allies said was poisoned.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow rejected any suggestion that Russia had been behind the attack on Navalny and warned other countries against jumping to hasty conclusions.

“There are no grounds to accuse the Russian state. And we are not inclined to accept any accusations in this respect,” Peskov told reporters.

Peskov said there was therefore no reason to discuss sanctions against Moscow.

Merkel has said Germany would consult its NATO allies about how to respond to the poisoning.

She faced growing pressure on Thursday to reconsider the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will take gas from Russia to Germany, after her statement on Navalny, who is being treated in a Berlin hospital.

Nord Stream 2 is set to double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline in carrying gas directly from Russia to Germany. It is more than 90% finished and due to operate from early 2021.

Peskov said the Kremlin regarded talk of taking action against the pipeline as being based on emotions.

He said the project was a commercial one which benefited Russia, Germany and Europe.

And he rejected the premise that Russia deserved to be sanctioned over the case.

“We don’t understand what the reason for any sanctions could be,” said Peskov.

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Andrew Osborn