- Russian President Vladimir Putin last week called Frenchman Emmanuel Macron in hopes of explaining the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, French media reported.
- Sources briefed on the call told Insider it was a disaster.
- Putin is said to have told Macron that Navalny may have poisoned himself to make Russia look bad.
- Macron is said to have considered the claim insultingly implausible, to the point that it could materially damage Europe-Russia relations.
- Two sources told Insider that Macron was now much more willing to jeopardize the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project that connects Russia with Europe.
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An attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to explain in a call with France how Alexei Navalny was poisoned in Russia went so badly that it seriously hampered his relations with Europe, intelligence sources told Insider.
According to French media, Putin spoke to his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, last week about Navalny, the opposition leader who was poisoned with nerve agent Novichok in late August and evacuated to Europe for treatment.
Putin is said to have suggested during the call that Navalny may have poisoned himself in an elaborate attempt to discredit Russia.
Intelligence sources have called the explanation so inept and offensive as to seriously set back the already strained relations between Russia and European nations.
A French security official, who requested anonymity as he is not allowed to speak on the minutes, said the exchange outraged Macron, who is usually wary of dealing directly with Russia.
“There is cynicism on the part of European leaders about Putin when it comes to these events,” the official said.
“But Macron has a huge ego and considers himself someone you can’t bulls —. He expected to be told it was an internal matter, potentially an illegal operation by a subordinate being investigated, possibly suggesting the possibility that some Chechens [did it] without your knowledge or approval. “
The source described past conversations as “unsatisfactory but plausible enough to make it more difficult to confront him.”
“Macron responded to the call expecting this typical behavior, and instead fed completely on nonsense about Navalny giving himself a deadly agent found only in the safest Russian military supplies.
“We understand that silly, confusing and often contradictory messages like these are Putin’s way of handling things nationally – but to the president of France?”
The French official added that Macron was “furious”.
“She will make her own decisions on how to handle the situation, but the consequences she is threatening could become much stronger support for Merkel acting on Nord Stream if that is how the Germans decide to proceed,” the official said, referring to the chancellor. German Angela. Merkel and Nord Stream 2, an undersea pipeline that aims to connect Russia to Germany.
Political tensions between Russia and the West have repeatedly threatened to derail the pipeline project. Merkel has come under severe pressure to use Nord Stream 2 as a lever to extract responses from Russia.
“Macron’s point of view is that you cannot lie to the president of France as if he were a Russian peasant,” the source said.
German security officials refused to comment on the situation when asked by Insider.
But a Central European counterintelligence official who works closely with Germany on Russian affairs said he believes Europe can see no alternative but to take action. The source also spoke anonymously, as he is not authorized to speak publicly.
“Macron and Merkel have a lot to deal with politically right now, and they both find themselves angry at being put in this position by Putin and even angrier that he is handling it with so much contempt for them,” the said. officer.
Blaming Germany and Navalny for removing the evidence infuriated Merkel, and suggesting that Navalny did it himself probably gave Macron an aneurysm.
“But my feeling from talking to German colleagues is that electoral issues in the United States figure in everyone’s calculations quite strongly.”
The source added that “a strong and united coalition of Germany, France and other EU members can stand up to Putin, but it’s all much stronger and more effective if the US president is a committed participant.”
“There is currently little confidence in the United States as a partner in this effort,” the source said, “but that could change after the election.”