The condition of poisoned Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has improved, doctors treating him in Berlin said.
Charité, the Berlin hospital where the most vocal critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin is being treated, said on Monday that Mr Navalny had been “removed from his medically-induced coma and was being weaned off mechanical ventilation”.
“He is responding to verbal stimuli,” the hospital added in a statement. “It remains too early to gauge the potential long-term effects of his severe poisoning.”
Mr Navalny, Russia’s most prominent anti-corruption activist, fell ill on a flight from Siberia after drinking a cup of tea at the airport in Tomsk on August 20. He was flown to Berlin for treatment two days later.
The German government said last week that a toxicology test by a specialist military laboratory proved “beyond all doubt” that he was poisoned with the chemical nerve agent, novichok.
Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union, was also used in the 2018 Salisbury poisonings that targeted former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
The Kremlin has denied any responsibility for the attack on Mr Navalny, but his poisoning and subsequent treatment in Germany has strained German-Russian relations, already at a low after the murder of a Chechen rebel in a Berlin park last year and a huge hack on the Bundestag computer system in 2015.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has long sought to separate political tensions with Russia from economic interests such as the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, linking Russian gas to Germany’s Baltic coast.
But at the weekend, German foreign minister Heiko Maas said he hoped Russia would not force Berlin to “change our stance” by failing to co-operate with the investigation into Mr Navalny’s poisoning. It was the first time an official from Ms Merkel’s government has acknowledged the incident could have consequences for the gas project.
If Moscow did not begin assisting with the inquiries “in the next few days”, Berlin would start talks with other countries on how to respond, Mr Maas told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
“Patience is up in Berlin with Russia, particularly on the chancellor’s side. Putin didn’t give her anything to cover this situation,” said Markus Kaim, a fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “But given the circumstances, I’m sceptical the project can be cancelled . . . she has put too much political capital in this for such a long time, she cannot simply reverse course.”
Ms Merkel’s coalition partners, the Social Democrats, have long supported the project. Some parties have suggested Berlin impose a moratorium on construction until Moscow offered some concessions.
But transatlantic alliances have also come under deep strain since the days of the poisoning of the Skripals, when US and European officials expelled scores of Russian diplomats in a united front. Under US President Donald Trump, resentments have grown between Washington and European capitals, especially Berlin.
“As long as Europe is divided, as long as the west is divided, I don’t see much chance of changing Russia’s behaviour,” said Mr Kaim.