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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

21 hours ago - World

Armin Laschet elected as leader of Merkel's CDU party in Germany

Armin Laschet. Photo: Christian Marquar - Pool/Getty Images

Armin Laschet, the centrist governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, was elected on Saturday as the new leader of Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), defeating the more conservative Friedrich Merz by a 521-466 margin.

Why it matters: Laschet is now the most likely successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel as the standard bearer of the German center-right heading into September's elections. With Merkel preparing to step down after 16 years in power, Laschet is seen as a continuity candidate.

In photos: D.C. and U.S. states on alert for pre-inauguration violence

National Guard troops stand behind security fencing with the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building behind them, on Jan. 16. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Security has been stepped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S. as authorities brace for potential violence this weekend.

Driving the news: Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by some supporters of President Trump, the FBI has said there could be armed protests in D.C. and in all 50 state capitols in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

14 hours ago - Politics & Policy

The new Washington

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Axios subject-matter experts brief you on the incoming administration's plans and team.