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Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Thursday accused President Vladimir Putin of orchestrating his poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok, a calling card of the Russian security services.

Driving the news: In his first interview since being released from a German hospital, where he was kept in a medically induced coma for weeks, Navalny told Der Spiegel that German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid him a personal visit last week.

  • "I know it sounds a bit over the top, but Germany has become a special country for me," Navalny said, thanking German politicians and doctors for saving his life.
  • "I was impressed by the detail [Merkel] knows about Russia and my case."

The big picture: Navalny's poisoning with Novichok, which was used in the attempted assassination in 2018 of former double agent Sergei Skripal in the U.K., has been confirmed by specialist labs in France and Sweden, in addition to Germany.

  • "I assert that Putin was behind the crime, and I have no other explanation for what happened," Navalny told Der Spiegel, adding that he plans to return to Russia.
  • "And my job now is to remain the guy who isn’t afraid. And I’m not afraid! When my hands shake, it’s not from fear – it’s from this stuff. I would not give Putin the gift of not returning to Russia."

Russia has vehemently denied any culpability for the attack, with Putin reportedly suggesting in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron that Navalny poisoned himself.

What to watch: European leaders have demanded that Putin provide an explanation and plan to discuss the matter at a European Council meeting on Thursday and Friday.

  • “This is very clearly a murder attempt carried out on Russian soil, against a Russian opposition leader with a chemical agent manipulated in Russia,” Macron told reporters this week. "It is therefore up to Russia to provide clarifications."
  • But the European Union's failure to impose sanctions on Belarus over its rigged election, following objections from Cyprus over an unrelated matter, has some expressing doubt that the bloc will be able to cobble together the unanimity required to penalize Putin.

Go deeper: Putin, poison and the pipeline

Go deeper

Jan 27, 2021 - World

At Davos, Putin points to U.S. to warn Big Tech is driving social divisions

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin told the virtual “Davos Agenda” conference on Wednesday that recent events in the U.S. had underscored the danger of “public discontent” combined with “modern technology.”

The big picture: Putin, a late addition to the speakers' list, is facing protests at home over the arrest of opposition figure Alexey Navalny. Several experts and activists criticized the World Economic Forum for inviting him, with chess champion and Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov tweeting that Putin’s appearance showed he was “desperate to reassure his cronies he's still acceptable in the West despite his brutal crackdown.”

Updated 15 mins ago - Politics & Policy

British national named in Colleyville synagogue standoff

A law enforcement vehicle sits near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Jan. 16. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

British national Malik Faisal Akram took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue outside Fort Worth on Saturday, the FBI said in a statement.

State of play: Authorities had initially declined to release the name of the 44-year-old suspect or identify the hostages, all adults, though police chief Michael Miller confirmed that one of those held was Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who leads the congregation.

Updated 27 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron — Deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: West Virginia governor feeling "extremely unwell" after positive test — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers — America struggles to keep schools open
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker