Pompeo Affirms Support For Georgia As Russian Influence Grows

 

 


COSTAS BALTAS / POOL / AFP

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday sought to reassure Georgia of Washington’s commitment to strengthening ties during a visit to the region where Russia is asserting its influence.

Pompeo’s meetings with leaders of Georgia came a week after Moscow brokered a peace deal between neighbours Azerbaijan and Armenia that sees 2,000 Russian peacekeepers stationed in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Anti-government demonstrators blocked the main street through the capital Tbilisi during the visit to voice anger over recent parliamentary elections the opposition said were rigged.

“We’ve been great friends almost 30 years on for your democracy,” Pompeo said during a meeting with Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia.

Pompeo vowed support for Georgia’s democratic development and said the United States recognised “the pain and difficulty connected to the occupation of your country,” referring to Russian troops stationed in two breakaway regions.

“Know that we want to do everything we can to support your democratic process…  with free and fair elections,” he added.

Russia’s deployment of peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabkh last week unsettled Georgia, which in 2008 lost a brief war with Moscow over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia recognised the breakaway provinces and stationed military bases in the regions, derailing Tbilisi’s bid to join NATO, a long-time aspiration backed by the US but angrily opposed by Russia.

Pompeo made the visit to Georiga as part of a tour of seven US allies and he held talks with President Salome Zurabishvili and later with Gakharia and Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani.

“Our strategic partnership is based first of all on values – freedom, democracy, and of course shared geostrategic interests,” Gakharia said during his meeting with Pompeo.

– ‘Political turmoil’

The US embassy said ahead of Pompeo’s meetings that he would discuss “the importance of free and fair elections” with Georgian officials.

Georgia has recently been destabilised by anger over parliamentary elections which the ruling Georgian Dream party won narrowly on October 31, but which the opposition has denounced as rigged.

Opposition parties have staged mass protests demanding snap polls and refused to enter the new parliament, in a boycott that has undermined the ruling party’s legitimacy.

Opposition leaders said they hoped Pompeo would push the Georgian Dream-led government towards compromise, an expectation echoed by demonstrators in Tbilisi Wednesday.

Thousands of opposition protesters formed a human chain in the capital’s main thoroughfare, waving US and Georgian flags and holding placards that read “rigged elections” and “we need your voice.”

But a US diplomat told journalists “we’re not going to have the Secretary of State get pulled into domestic political disputes and turmoil.”

The diplomat added that the message the US wanted to deliver was: “use the institutions, don’t just boycott them and achieve your gains that way”.

Yet the way electoral violations were addressed by Georgia’s election commission “added to the sense of suspicion about to whether the results were credible or not,” the diplomat conceded.

A staunch US ally, Georgia is one of the most pluralistic countries to emerge from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, although concerns have been growing that it is backsliding on democracy.

Critics accuse the ruling party’s billionaire leader Bidzina Ivanishvili — who is widely seen to be calling the shots in Georgia — of persecuting political opponents and creating a corrupt system where private interests permeate politics.

Before departing for Israel on Wednesday afternoon, Pompeo met with representatives of civil society and the influential head of Georgia’s Orthodox Church, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II.

AFP

Russia Denies Microsoft Claims Of Healthcare Cyber Attacks

 

 

Moscow on Tuesday vehemently rejected claims by Microsoft that Russia was behind cyberattacks on companies researching coronavirus vaccines and treatments, saying it was being made a scapegoat.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told state news agency RIA Novosti it had become “politically fashionable” to pin the blame for cyber attacks on Moscow.

Russia announced in August that it had registered the world’s first coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V — named after the Soviet-era satellite — but did so ahead of large-scale clinical trials.

In October, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia had also registered its second coronavirus vaccine, EpiVacCorona.

“We do not need anything other than a normal approach towards the projects we already have in Russia and are promoting including in cooperation with foreign partners,” Ryabkov said.

Ryabkov also claimed that Russian companies themselves were frequently becoming targets of foreign cyber attacks.

He said Russia and the United States should allow experts to look into the issue.

“However, Washington has persistently steered clear of such dialogue,” Ryabkov added.

Last week, Microsoft urged a crackdown on cyber-attacks perpetrated by states and “malign actors” after a spate of hacks disrupted healthcare organisations fighting the coronavirus.

The US tech giant said the attacks came from Russia and North Korea.

The Kremlin has previously denied US claims that Russian military intelligence was behind cyberattacks targeting Ukraine’s power grid, the 2017 French election, and the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, describing them as “Russophobia”.

AFP

Russia’s Navalny Sanctions Plan ‘Unjustified,’ Says Germany


Tiziana FABI, Mladen ANTONOV / AFP

 

The German government on Friday branded as “unjustified” plans by Russia to impose retaliatory sanctions on German and French officials over the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert was reacting to an announcement on Thursday by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the Kremlin had confirmed it would soon inform Germany and France of new sanctions against them.

Lavrov described the step as a response to the European Union’s move to slap sanctions on several Russian officials in October.

The bloc had argued the August poisoning of Navalny could not have been carried out without the complicity of Moscow’s security services.

“Russia has all the means at its disposal to get to the bottom of this crime and instead it levels sanctions against officials of other states,” Seibert said.

He called the punitive measures “unjustified and inappropriate”, saying that Russia was “disregarding the international interest in solving this case”.

Instead, Moscow was “making it an issue in its bilateral relations with Germany and France”.

The 44-year-old anti-graft campaigner collapsed on a flight in Russia in August and was transported to Germany where experts concluded he was poisoned with the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok.

Navalny has said he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the poisoning, while the Kremlin has strenuously denied involvement and accused Germany of refusing to cooperate in an investigation.

Lavrov on Thursday added without providing evidence that Moscow had “reason to believe” the nerve agent could have entered Navalny’s system during the flight to Berlin’s Charite hospital or while he was in Germany.

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh called the suggestion that Navalny was poisoned in Germany “the most idiotic of them all”.

Doctors who treated Navalny before he was flown to Berlin said last week that he had not been poisoned but instead was suffering from metabolic issues and pancreatitis.

Navalny remains in Germany for treatment but has vowed to return to Russia after making a full recovery.

-AFP

Russia Sees Record Spike In COVID-19 Cases

A woman speaks with a man wearing face masks as a measure against the spread of the Covid-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic in central Moscow on November 8, 2020. More than 12 million cases of the new coronavirus have been recorded in Europe.
Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP

 

Russia registered a record number of new coronavirus infections on Monday with cases in Moscow surpassing a previous high set in May.

The Kremlin has so far ruled outputting back into place sweeping restrictions that were lifted earlier this year, despite weeks of rising cases in Russia.

An official coronavirus tally on Monday said new infections reached 21,798, nearly doubling the country’s first-wave record in May.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov conceded that the steady growth in cases in Russia “remained alarming”, but noted that “not all countries are in lockdown”.

Russia, the fifth worst-hit country in the world after the United States, India, Brazil and France, has recorded a total of 1,796,132 infections.

Unlike several European countries that have reimposed quarantine regimes after suffering spiralling infections, hospital admissions and deaths, Russia has yet to announce plans for sweeping anti-virus measures.

In Moscow, the epicentre of the outbreak, new infections reached 6,897 on Monday, surpassing the May record by more than 100. There were also 256 new deaths nationwide, bringing the total to 30,793.

Russia has reported a much lower virus fatality rate compared to other badly hit countries and Kremlin critics have accused the government of attempting to downplay the severity of the pandemic.

The government recently announced an aid package worth 11 billion rubles ($138.6 million) for regions that have struggled to manage a rapid surge in cases.

-AFP

Russia Rules Out Navalny Poisoning, Diagnoses Pancreatitis

Alexei Navalny
This handout picture posted on September 23, 2020 on the Instagram account of @navalny shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny sitting on a bench in Berlin. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who the West believes was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent, has been discharged from hospital after a month, his doctors in Berlin said on September 23, 2020.
Handout / Instagram account @navalny / AFP

 

 

Russian officials said on Friday that metabolic problems and pancreatitis caused Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to fall ill in August, ruling out findings by European labs that he was poisoned with Novichok.

In August, the 44-year-old anti-graft campaigner collapsed on a flight from Siberia to Moscow and was eventually transferred for treatment to Germany where experts ruled he was poisoned with the Soviet-designed nerve agent.

The interior ministry’s Siberian branch said doctors who treated Navalny for two days before he was flown to Berlin confirmed their diagnosis of “disruption of carbohydrate metabolism and chronic pancreatitis”.

“The diagnosis of ‘poisoning’… was not confirmed,” it said in a statement.

The interior ministry added that no poisonous substances were found on Navalny’s clothes or on objects collected from his hotel or the airport cafe in the Siberian city of Tomsk where he was seen before the flight.

Navalny has claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin is personally responsible for the poisoning, while the Kremlin has rejected all allegations it could have been involved.

The head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Sergei Naryshkin also claimed Friday that NATO countries plotted to use a Russian opposition leader as a “sacred sacrifice” to uphold the protest mood in the country.

Navalny said it was “funny” that both the interior ministry statement and Naryshkin’s interview with state television were released on the same day.

“It seems NATO countries convinced me to start a fatal diet,” Navalny wrote on Twitter.

Navalny’s poisoning has put further strain on Russia’s already fragile relationship with Western Europe.

In October, EU sanctioned several senior Russian officials over the poisoning, saying the attack with Novichok could not have been carried out without the complicity of the FSB security service, the defence ministry and Putin’s office.

Separately, the Russian foreign ministry accused Germany of using “made up pretexts” to avoid cooperating in investigating the incident. Moscow called on Berlin to “abstain from further artificial politicisation of the situation”.

In a phone call with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Thursday, Russia’s top diplomat Sergei Lavrov highlighted the “unacceptability” of Berlin “refusing to fulfill its international legal commitments,” the foreign ministry in Moscow said.

Also on Thursday, police raided the offices of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow and removed equipment. The new raid was linked to a criminal case against Ivan Zhdanov, the foundation’s head, for failing to implement a court order.

A court in October last year ordered that Navalny, his associate Lyubov Sobol and the Anti-Corruption Foundation must jointly pay almost 88 million rubles ($1.1 million) to a catering firm linked to Kremlin associate Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Navalny has vowed to return to Russia after fully recovering in Germany.

-AFP

Russia COVID-19 Infection Cases Hit New Record

An ambulance driver has a short rest in front of a hospital where patients infected with the COVID-19 novel coronavirus are being treated in the settlement of Kommunarka outside Moscow on October 27, 2020. On Tuesday, authorities reported a record of daily death of 320 people with the disease. Russia has the fourth-highest virus caseload in the world, with a total of 1,547,774 registered infections and 26,589 deaths.
Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

 

Russia announced a record daily number of coronavirus infections on Wednesday, with 19,768 new cases adding to pressure on the government only days after President Vladimir Putin said there were no plans for a lockdown.

The number of deaths also ticked up by a record 389, meaning that 29,217 people have been killed by Covid-19 since it reached Russia earlier this year.

Russia has listed a total of 1,693,454 cases of infection.

Like in many European countries, hospitals in Russia’s regions have been hit by a sharp increase in virus patients with pictures circulating on social media showing people lying on staircases at medical facilities and long ambulance queues unable to deliver patients for treatment.

Russia imposed one of the most restrictive lockdowns during the peak of the first wave of the pandemic from March to May, but last Thursday Putin said “we are not planning to introduce sweeping restrictive measures” or a nation-wide lockdown.

Putin spoke in favour of a regionalised approach with targeted measures in the most affected cities and regions.

Other countries, including France and England, tried to implement this strategy before abandoning it in favour of national lockdowns due to the exponential growth of virus cases.

Russian consumer safety regulator Rospotrebnadzor has reinforced protective measures such as mandatory mask-wearing in busy areas such as public transport and elevators.

It has also recommended that public events at night be banned and restaurants and bars closed, but very few regions have followed the advice.

The government has announced an aid package worth 11 billion rubles ($138.6 million) for the country’s regions which have overtaken Moscow in new cases.

Russia has reported a much lower virus fatality rate compared to other badly hit countries and Kremlin critics have accused the government of attempting to downplay the severity of the pandemic.

 Navalny Accuses Putin Of Being Behind His Poisoning

In this file photo taken on January 16, 2018 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny smiles during an interview with AFP at the office of his Anti-corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow. Mladen ANTONOV / AFP
In this file photo taken on January 16, 2018 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny smiles during an interview with AFP at the office of his Anti-corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow. Mladen ANTONOV / AFP

 

 

 

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has accused President Vladimir Putin of being behind his poisoning, in his first interview published since he left the German hospital where he was treated.

“I assert that Putin is behind this act, I don’t see any other explanation,” he told the German weekly Der Spiegel, which published extracts from the interview on its website Thursday.

Navalny collapsed last month while on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow after a campaign trip to support opposition candidates in local elections.

Russian doctors who first treated him said their tests did not find any toxic substances.

The 44-year-old Kremlin critic was evacuated to Berlin on August 22 in a coma and on mechanical ventilation.

Germany said toxicology tests show he was poisoned by the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. France and Sweden have independently corroborated Germany’s findings.

The Kremlin has denied allegations of involvement in the poisoning and accused Western leaders of launching a disinformation campaign over the opposition leader’s illness.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied meddling in US elections.
File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied meddling in US elections.

 

Navalny was finally discharged after a month from Berlin’s Charite hospital, with doctors saying he could make a full recovery.

The Kremlin critic has been active on social media since being brought out of the coma.

Posting a photograph of himself sitting on a Berlin bench, Navalny said on Instagram last week he was far from fully recovered and would require rehabilitation.

“The plans are always simple: a physiotherapist every day. Possibly a rehabilitation centre. Stand on one leg. Take back control of my fingers completely. Maintain balance,” he wrote.

Biden Says Trump Is Russian President ‘Putin’s Puppy’

US President Donald Trump (R) and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden take part in the first presidential debate at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 29, 2020. Olivier DOULIERY / POOL / AFP

 

 

Democratic challenger Joe Biden on Tuesday accused Donald Trump of failing to confront Russia, accusing the US leader of being the “puppy” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I’ve gone head to head with Putin and made it clear to him — we’re not going to take any of this stuff. He’s Putin’s puppy,” Biden said of Trump.

AFP

Putin Says Belarus Facing ‘Unprecedented External Pressure’

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied meddling in US elections.
File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied meddling in US elections.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that neighbouring Belarus was under unprecedented external pressure, as the Kremlin’s ex-Soviet ally faces a deep political crisis over a disputed election.

Belarus is in a “difficult situation” and facing “unprecedented external pressure”, Putin said in televised remarks, after a presidential vote last month sparked ongoing protests against authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Protesters have taken to the streets of Belarusian cities since Lukashenko claimed a sixth term with 80 percent of the vote in the August 9 election.

Putin has promised to provide the 66-year-old strongman with security assistance if the political crisis worsens and gave Belarus a loan of $1.5 billion.

Lukashenko has accused various Western countries and NATO of attempting to destabilise his country or support the protest movement.

Addressing a forum on the Belarusian and Russian regions, the Kremlin chief said that Moscow was ready to stand by Minsk, describing ties as “timeless and all-weather”.

Lukashenko’s relationship with Putin was strained ahead of the vote last month with Minsk accusing Russia of dispatching mercenaries to plot unrest with the opposition.

Putin has long been pushing for even closer integration between the two countries, whose “union state” alliance guarantees close military and economic ties.

European leaders have refused to recognise Lukashenko’s relection and have promised sanctions on Belarus for vote rigging and a fierce crackdown on post-election protests.

Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who claimed victory over Lukashenko in the August vote has rallied Western support for demonstrators since fleeing to neighbouring Lithuania.

AFP

Russia Accuses Germany Of Non-Cooperation Over Navalny Poisoning

A poster with a picture of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny with the headline "poisoned" is seen outside the Russian embassy on Unter den Linden in Berlin during an anti-government protest on September 23, 2020. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP
A poster with a picture of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny with the headline “poisoned” is seen outside the Russian embassy on Unter den Linden in Berlin during an anti-government protest on September 23, 2020. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

 

Russia on Friday accused Germany of refusing to cooperate with it to establish the cause of opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s illness as he continues to recover in Berlin.

The 44-year-old lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner collapsed on a flight to Moscow from Siberia in what his allies say was a state-sanctioned poison attack.

He was discharged from a hospital in Berlin this week after receiving treatment for a month.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that doctors in Siberia had passed information to their colleagues in Berlin and that Russia was ready to collaborate for the sake of Navalny’s “speedy recovery”.

READ ALSO: Navalny Discharged From Hospital After Suspected Poisoning

“Unfortunately, in response we received a categorical refusal from the German government to cooperate in establishing the truth about the situation with Alexei Navalny,” the statement said.

Labs in Germany, France and Sweden have said they confirmed the staunch critic of President Vladimir Putin was poisoned with Novichok, a Soviet military-grade nerve agent.

The Kremlin has denied the allegations and accused Western leaders of launching a disinformation campaign over the opposition leader’s illness.

The foreign ministry called Germany’s conclusion that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok “predictable” and said it was reached “in the atmosphere of ongoing anti-Russian hysteria in the West”.

Russia insists medical tests its doctors carried out found no poison in Navalny’s body. It says it lacks grounds for a criminal investigation, despite international calls for a transparent probe.

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said Friday that his recovery would “take a long time” and that he would undergo rehabilitation in Germany.

In a blog post on earlier on Friday, Navalny thanked Russian pilots who made an emergency landing when he fell ill and the paramedics who first treated him.

 

 

AFP

Navalny Discharged From Hospital After Suspected Poisoning

Alexei Navalny
This handout picture posted on September 23, 2020 on the Instagram account of @navalny shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny sitting on a bench in Berlin. 
Handout / Instagram account @navalny / AFP

 

Leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who the West believes was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent, has been discharged from hospital after a month and can make a full recovery, his doctors in Berlin said Wednesday.

European leaders have demanded explanations from Moscow since Germany said toxicology tests showed the 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner was poisoned with Novichok.

But the Kremlin has rubbished allegations it was behind the poisoning, and it said on Wednesday that with his recovery, Navalny “is free” to return to Russia anytime, “like any other Russian citizen”.

The outspoken opposition activist fell ill after boarding a plane in Siberia in August. Russian doctors who first treated him said their tests did not find any toxic substances.

German lab tests however pointed to “unequivocal proof” of Novichok, which was also used to poison ex-double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England, in 2018. He survived.

France and Sweden have since said tests they ran independently corroborate Germany’s conclusions.

Navalny spent 32 days in Charite hospital in the German capital, including 24 days in intensive care, before his release on Tuesday, the hospital said.

“Based on the patient’s progress and current condition, the treating physicians believe that complete recovery is possible,” Charite said in a statement, adding however that it remained too early to assess any long-term effects of his severe poisoning.

For now, Navalny will remain in Germany as he embarks on rehabilitation, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter.

– ‘No other option’ –

Navalny collapsed last month while on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow after a campaign trip to support opposition candidates in local elections.

He was evacuated to Berlin on August 22 in a coma and on mechanical ventilation.

Posting a photograph of himself sitting on a Berlin bench, Navalny said on Instagram Wednesday he was far from fully recovered and would require rehabilitation.

“The plans are always simple: a physiotherapist every day. Possibly a rehabilitation centre. Stand on one leg. Take back control of my fingers completely. Maintain balance,” he wrote.

The Kremlin critic has been active on social media since being brought out of the coma.

In his first blog posted on Monday since regaining consciousness, Navalny said that the three European labs had found Novichok “in and on my body”.

He noted that Russia had still not opened an investigation but that he “did not expect anything else.”

With his condition improving, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh has said the opposition leader planned to return to Russia.

“No other option has ever been considered,” she told AFP.

Navalny aides said Thursday that German experts found Novichok on a water bottle taken from the hotel room where he stayed before being taken ill.

The bottle appears to have been key evidence for Germany’s conclusion that the lawyer and outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin was poisoned with the deadly nerve agent.

– ‘Cunning plan’ –

Navalny’s poisoning has heightened tensions between Russia and the West, in particular aggravating the relationship with Germany.

Merkel had always insisted on keeping channels of dialogue open with Moscow but she has sharpened her tone lately, with Navalny’s case coming a year after a murder in a central Berlin park that German prosecutors say was ordered by Russia.

On Tuesday, the French daily Le Monde reported that in a phone call when France’s President Emmanuel Macron demanded that Putin shed light on the incident, the Russian leader had suggested that Navalny may have taken the poison himself “for a non-specified reason”.

Reacting to the report, Navalny said in a sarcastic post on Instagram that “that’s a good lead”.

“I cooked Novichok in the kitchen. Swallowed some from my hip flask on the plane. Went into a coma…

“My cunning plan was to die in a hospital in Omsk, where at the morgue the autopsy would have concluded ’cause of death: lived long enough’. But Putin saw right through me.

“And as a result, I, like an idiot, was in a coma for 18 days and didn’t get what I wanted. The provocation failed,” he wrote.

AFP

Navalny ‘Is Free’ To Return To Russia, Says Kremlin

In this file photo taken on July 20, 2019 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny addresses demonstrators during a rally to support opposition and independent candidates after authorities refused to register them for September elections to the Moscow City Duma, Moscow.  Maxim ZMEYEV / AFP

 

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is welcome to return to Moscow, the Kremlin said Wednesday after he was discharged from a German hospital that treated him for poisoning.

Navalny, who the West believes was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent, was released from hospital after a month, his doctors in Berlin said earlier Wednesday.

“As regards his returning to Moscow, like any other Russian citizen, he is free to do so at any moment,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian news agencies.

The Kremlin critic spent 32 days in Charite hospital in Berlin after he fell ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow in what his allies say was a state-sanctioned poisoning attack.

In keeping with the Kremlin’s tradition of not using Navalny’s name, Peskov said he would welcome news that “the patient really is getting better,” and wished him “a speedy recovery”.

On Tuesday, Le Monde newspaper reported, citing sources, that Russian President Vladimir Putin had suggested that Navalny might have taken the poison himself “for a non-specified reason”.

Reacting to the report, Navalny said in a sarcastic post on Instagram that “that’s a good version”.

Peskov on Wednesday said the French newspaper had misrepresented a recent conversation between Putin and French leader Emmanuel Macron and that the report was “imprecise”.

The Kremlin has dismissed claims that the Russian state was behind Navalny’s poisoning as “absurd”.

AFP