Poisoning of Russian opposition leader 'completely reprehensible': White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Wednesday called “completely reprehensible” findings that Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a chemical nerve agent, and said the United States would work to hold “those in Russia accountable.”

A U.S. government source familiar with U.S. intelligence reporting said there was no reason to doubt the German finding that a Novichok nerve agent was used to poison Navalny, a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier on Wednesday said that a Novichok agent was used in a bid to murder Navalny, who remained in serious condition in an intensive care unit in a Berlin hospital.

Moscow has denied involvement in the matter.

Novichok are a family of nerve agents developed in the former Soviet Union. Britain has charged two men it called Russian military intelligence officers with using a Novichok agent in a failed March 2018 attempt to kill a former Russian spy and his daughter in the English cathedral city of Salisbury.

Navalny, 44, collapsed in pain aboard an aircraft on Aug. 20 as he flew back to Moscow from Siberia after drinking tea that his allies said was poisoned. He was airlifted to Germany for treatment.

John Ullyot, a National Security Council spokesman, said on Twitter that the finding that a Novichok agent was used against Navalny was “completely reprehensible.”

Asserting that Russia has used Novichok “in the past,” Ullyot said the United States will “work with allies and the international community to hold those in Russia accountable, wherever the evidence leads, and restrict funds for their malign activities.”

“The Russian people have a right to express their views peacefully without fear of retribution of any kind, and certainly not with chemical agents,” he said.

Reporting by Jonathan Landay, E; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Franklin Paul and Alistair Bell