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Merkel 'demands' Putin free Kremlin critic Navalny as pair meet in Moscow

She made the comments at a Kremlin press conference.

Alexei Navalny
Alexei Navalny
Image: PA

GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA Merkel asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to free his jailed opponent Alexei Navalny on the anniversary of a nerve-agent attack on the politician, whose life was saved by Berlin doctors.

“I demanded from the Russian leader that he free Navalny,” Merkel — who blames Moscow for the poisoning — said standing next to Putin at a Kremlin press conference.

“And I made clear that we will keep doing that,” she said, calling the situation around Navalny “distressing”.

Putin — who denies ordering the poison attack and refuses to say Navalny’s name in public — referred to his challenger as “the defendant”. He denied Navalny was jailed for his political activity, saying he was behind bars for “criminal offences”.

“I would ask that the judicial decisions of the Russian Federation be treated with respect,” he said, claiming that Russia had an inclusive political system.

“The fight against corruption should not be used to achieve political goals,” the Russian leader said of Navalny’s work, which seeks to uncover the riches of Russia’s political elite.

Merkel’s demand comes as French President Emmanuel Macron also asked Putin to release Navalny in a phone call with the Russian leader yesterday.

Security agents

The UK announced new sanctions today against several figures it says are Russian security agents that were involved in the poisoning.

The pair also discussed Afghanistan and Ukraine in the symbolic visit that is Merkel’s last to Russia before leaving office next month.

The chancellor will travel to Russia’s rival Ukraine after visiting the Kremlin chief, who infrequently receives Western visitors in Moscow.

Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, and Putin, a former KGB agent stationed there, speak each other’s languages.

During the chancellor’s 16 years in power, the pair always kept a dialogue despite strained relations.

Prison colony

Merkel visited Navalny when he was treated at the Charite hospital in Berlin following the near-fatal poisoning.

Navalny is now held in a maximum security prison colony in Pokrov, 100 kilometres east of Moscow.

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This month he was charged with new crimes that could prolong his jail time by three years. If found guilty, he could only be released after 2024, the year Russia is scheduled to hold a presidential election.

In a message from prison posted on his Instagram by his team today, Navalny said the 20th of August — when he thought “he died” after losing consciousness on a flight over Siberia — was his “second birthday”.

He thanked his supporters for calling for him to be taken out of Russia for treatment.

“Thanks to you I survived and landed in prison,” he joked, adding “sorry, I could not help myself”.

The 45-year-old’s movement has faced unprecedented pressure ahead of September parliamentary polls in Russia, in which Putin’s United Russia party is expected to struggle.

- © AFP

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