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Poisoned Putin opponent ‘plans’ to return to Russia

Ailing Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has shared a photograph from a Berlin hospital, sitting up in bed and surrounded by his family.

 Writing on his Instagram page on Tuesday, Mr. Navalny said he could now breathe independently after being poisoned in Siberia in August.

The photo is the strongest evidence yet of the opposition politician’s advancing recovery after emerging from a coma last week. Shortly after the post, a confirmation was issued by his press spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, saying he planned to return to Russia.

Mr. Navalny fell seriously sick while campaigning on August 20 and was flown to Berlin. Germany says laboratory tests in three countries have determined he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, and Western governments have demanded an explanation from Russia.

The Kremlin has described the accusations as groundless. Senior government spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated on Tuesday that Moscow was open to clearing up what happened to Mr. Navalny, but needed access to information on his case from Berlin.

The case has further strained relations between Russia and the West, already at a post-Cold War low since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. There was also the attempted poisoning of a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, with the same Novichok nerve agent in Britain in 2018.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has faced calls to punish Russia by suspending work on a nearly completed pipeline bringing gas from Russia to Germany.

On Tuesday, the New York Times quoted a German security official as saying Mr. Navalny had spoken to a German prosecutor about the poisoning incident and said he planned to return to Russia as soon as he recovered.

Confirming the report in a tweet, his spokeswoman Ms.Yarmysh said there were “no other options ever considered”.

Asked for comment, Mr. Peskov said: “Any citizen of the Russian Federation is free to leave Russia and return to Russia.”

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