Donald Trump has failed to join other world leaders in condemning Russia for an alleged Novichok poison attack on opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The US president told reporters on Friday that “it’s tragic. It’s terrible, it shouldn’t happen. We haven’t had any proof yet, but I will take a look”, before asking why they were focused on Russia, rather than China.
He said his administration will “have to look at it very seriously, if it’s the case”.
The nerve agents are reputed to be among the most deadly ever created
However, Mr Trump later said he would not be happy if Russia did poison Mr Navalny, “and that seems to be the case”.
Mr Navalny, one of Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, has called the leader’s United Russia group the “party of crooks and thieves“.
He fell ill on a flight to Moscow and has been in an induced coma for more than a week after being flown to Germany, where he is being treated at a hospital in Berlin.
Supporters believe the pro-democracy campaigner was poisoned at an airport in Siberia while waiting for the flight.
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Not for the first time, Mr Trump’s stance is in sharp contrast to that of many of Washington’s traditional allies.
Germany has said Mr Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent – the same substance used against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in March 2018 – and is demanding the perpetrators be held to account.
Boris Johnson said the Russian government “must now explain what happened to Mr Navalny”, adding that it was “outrageous that a chemical weapon was used”.
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg condemned the “appalling assassination attempt” on Mr Navalny.
He said: “There is proof beyond doubt that Mr Navalny was poisoned using a military-grade nerve agent from the Novichok group. The use of such a weapon is horrific.”
Even the US State Department went further than the president, expressing grave concern about the matter.
In a meeting in Washington, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun told Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov that Moscow’s use of this chemical weapon would be a clear violation of its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement: “The Deputy Secretary urged Russia to cooperate fully with the international community’s investigation into this attack.”
Russia has denied any involvement in the affair, has not opened a criminal investigation and said there is no evidence yet of a crime.
Mr Navalny is the most popular and prominent opponent of President Vladimir Putin, and Germany’s confirmation that he was poisoned has raised the possibility of further Western sanctions against Moscow.