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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

Dave Lawler, author of World
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.”

Scoop: Border officials project 13,000 child migrants in May

The "El Chaparral" border crossing at Tijuana. Photo: Stringer/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

A Customs and Border Protection staffer told top administration officials Thursday the agency is projecting a peak of 13,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border in May, sources directly familiar with the discussion told Axios.

Why it matters: That projection would exceed the height of the 2019 crisis, which led to the infamous "kids-in-cages" disaster. It also underscores a rapidly escalating crisis for the Biden administration.

4 hours ago - World

U.S. strikes Iran-backed militia facilities in Syria

President Biden at the Pentagon on Feb. 10. Photo: Alex Brandon - Pool/Getty Images

The United States on Thursday carried out an airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to an Iran-backed militia group, the Pentagon announced.

The state of play: The strike, approved by President Biden, comes "in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.