t is not known who in Russia cleared the German air ambulance carrying Alexei Navalny for take-off from the Siberian city of Omsk. Navalny’s wife had appealed directly to president Vladimir Putin, and there are reports that German diplomats interceded at the highest level. But, whoever signed off on the final decision, it was always going to be fraught with risk for the Kremlin.
Just how much of a risk became apparent on Wednesday, when the German foreign ministry released a statement, saying that it was now “beyond doubt” that the Russian opposition leader had been poisoned with the nerve agent, novichok. A grave chancellor Angela Merkel then followed up with a call for an explanation from Russia for what she described as a murder attempt designed to silence this leading figure in Russia’s opposition.
The Kremlin, of course – whether or not the decision on the plane was taken at that level – was in a bind. It would have been condemned as inhumane if authorisation had been withheld, especially if Navalny had subsequently died. On the other hand, the moment Navalny left Russian air space, the Kremlin lost any control it might have had, both over what happened next and the message. That amounted to a huge concession, if it was made by Putin or anyone else.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies