Merkel urges Putin to release Kremlin critic Navalny on farewell visit to Russia

On her last visit to Moscow before resigning as leader, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday asked her Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to release Alexei Navalny from prison on the anniversary of the opposition leader’s poisoning.

Merkel’s trip to Moscow comes exactly one year after a nerve agent attack on the now-imprisoned Navalny, whose life was saved by Berlin doctors.

His aides have made it clear that the timing of the meeting is not accidental.

“I demanded that the Russian president release Navalny,” Merkel told a news conference in the Kremlin, alongside Putin.

The Russian leader referred to his challenger as “the accused.” He denied that Navalny was jailed for his political activity and said he was behind bars for “criminal offenses.”

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

Earlier, the German chancellor said it was important for Berlin to continue to engage with Moscow, despite “profound differences” on a variety of issues.

“We have a lot to talk about,” Merkel said, bringing several issues on her agenda, including the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

Merkel urges dialogue with Russia despite ‘deep differences’

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

During the 16 years of the chancellor in power, the couple always maintained a dialogue despite strained relations, marred by problems ranging from alleged cyberattacks to conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

Navalny ‘unjustly’ imprisoned

Merkel previously blamed the Kremlin for the near fatal poisoning of Navalny after tests in European laboratories showed Navalny was poisoned with the Novichok chemical weapon.

His spokesman Steffen Seibert said the attack had put a “heavy burden” on relations between the two countries.

Navalny is now being held in a maximum security prison colony in Pokrov, 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Moscow.

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

Seibert said Navalny had been jailed “by mistake.”

In a message from prison posted on his Instagram by his team on Friday, Navalny said that on August 20, when he thought he had “died” after losing consciousness on a flight over Siberia, it was his “second birthday.”

He thanked his followers for asking to be removed from Russia for treatment.

“Thanks to you I survived and landed in jail,” he joked, adding “I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it.”

Visit to Ukraine

Both Merkel and Putin said the crisis in Afghanistan featured prominently during their talks.

In his first comments on the issue since the Taliban took power, Putin said the world community should prevent the “collapse” of the country and ensure that “terrorists” do not enter neighboring countries from Afghanistan.

He said the world must come to terms with the fact that the Taliban now control Afghanistan, criticizing the “irresponsible policy” of imposing “external values” on the war-torn country.

Merkel and Putin also discussed the latent conflict in eastern Ukraine and authoritarian repression in Russia’s ally Belarus.

Germany has been a major player in efforts to negotiate peace in eastern Ukraine and Merkel expressed hope that peace talks on the conflict between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists will continue after she leaves power.

She told Putin that “even if progress is not as fast as we hoped,” the peace talks must be kept “alive.”

Merkel will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev on Sunday.

( Jowharwith AFP)

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