“It was more of a private visit and a conversation with the family. I am very grateful to Chancellor Merkel for visiting me in the hospital, ”the politician wrote.
German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Sunday evening, without citing sources, that Merkel made a secret visit to Navalny while he was in Charité Hospital in Berlin. He did not say when the visit took place, but Navalny was released from the hospital last week.
Merkel’s spokesperson Steffen Seibert confirmed to reporters on Monday that the meeting took place but denied that it was “secret”.
“It was a personal meeting between the Chancellor and Mr. Navalny,” he said. “It was a meeting with a person who fell ill after a nerve agent attack and who is being treated in Germany. ”
Seibert said the meeting took place last week, but declined to say when exactly or if another was scheduled. He recalled that the presence of a nerve agent in the Navalny system was determined “without a doubt” by laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden.
Navalny spent 32 days in hospital, including 24 in intensive care, before doctors deemed his condition had improved enough for him to be released. He will remain in Germany for the time being to continue his rehabilitation, his team said.
Navalny, a politician and corruption investigator who is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic, was flown to Germany two days after falling ill on August 20 on a domestic flight in Russia.
He spent those two days in a coma in a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk, where Russian doctors said they found no evidence of poisoning. German chemical weapons experts determined he had been poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok – findings corroborated by laboratories in France and Sweden.
The nerve agent used in the attack was from the same class of poison that Britain said was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, in 2018. Merkel called the attempted murder poisoning and she and other world leaders demanded that Russia fully investigate the case.
Navalny’s allies accused the Kremlin of being involved in the poisoning, accusations Russian authorities have denied.
Russia has bristled with requests for an investigation, saying Germany must share medical data on the case or compare notes with Russian doctors. Germany noted that Russian doctors have had their own samples of Navalny since he was in their charge for 48 hours.
Germany has also appealed to The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for technical assistance. The agency has collected independent samples from Navalny for testing but the results have not yet been announced.
The Russian delegation to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons sent a note to Germany last week, demanding that “full information on the so-called Navalny case”, including “test results, material biological and other clinical samples ”, are provided within 10 days. Germany confirmed having received the note, but reiterated that “Russia already has everything necessary to be able to carry out investigations itself”.
Asked about Russia’s reported request for diplomats to speak to Navalny, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr said on Monday that Germany had dealt with the request through normal procedures. “Mr. Navalny is free to receive the consular visit if he wishes,” she said.
Navalny is recovering from the alleged assassination attempt faster than expected, his close ally and chief strategist Leonid Volkov said on Sunday. “He’s doing a lot better, I would say unexpectedly better,” Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, told German TV station RTL. “I think the recovery is really quicker than expected, and of course that’s good news that makes us very happy. ”
Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report