PARIS (Reuters) – France has postponed next week’s visit to Moscow by its foreign and armed forces ministers as European powers seek responses from Russia to Germany’s conclusions that the Kremlin critic, Alexei Navalny, was poisoned.
Navalny, who is being treated at a hospital in Berlin, was airlifted to Germany after falling ill on a Russian domestic flight last month. Germany says he was poisoned with a nerve agent. Russia said it had seen no evidence Navalny had been poisoned.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian and Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly were due to visit Moscow as President Emmanuel Macron tries to reduce mistrust between Russia and the West, in the hope of securing the Russia’s help in solving the world’s most intractable crises.
“In view of the current circumstances and after an exchange with the Russian authorities, the Franco-Russian council on security cooperation has been postponed to a later date,” said French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll.
France’s Armed Forces Ministry tweeted on Thursday that talks would go ahead as planned on September 14, but over the weekend, Le Drian demanded that Russia explain how a Kremlin opponent could be poisoned on its territory with an agent neurotoxic.
“We would not be credible if we held the talks in the current climate”, declared a French diplomat.
After a four-year freeze on these high-level diplomatic visits following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine, Macron sent his defense ministers and Foreign Affairs in Moscow a year ago.
He also appointed a special envoy to advance a so-called five-point structured dialogue that he proposed to President Vladimir Putin.
His efforts have shocked other European Union member states who say little has changed to deserve a thaw in relations.
Parly admitted in July that efforts to develop a new relationship with Russia and bring Moscow back into the fold of major industrialized countries had not yet yielded results.