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US sanctions Russian officials over Navalny poisoning

Aleksei Navalny (Evgeny Feldman/Novaya Gazeta/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States says it is sanctioning seven senior members of the Russian government in response to the nerve-agent poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

Washington also said on March 2 that it was imposing export restrictions on nine commercial entities inside Russia that are involved in biological and chemical research.

A senior U.S. official said during a briefing that the United States had concluded with “high confidence” that Russian officials were behind the poisoning of Navalny in August.

The United States said it would release the names of the seven individuals later in the day.

The individuals sanctioned largely mirror those imposed by Europe last year and earlier on March 2, a senior administration official said.

The senior U.S. official said that the United States will respond in the coming weeks to “a number of destabilizing actions,” by Russia, including the Solar Winds hack and bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

European diplomatic sources said on March 1 that EU member states approved sanctions on four senior Russian justice and law enforcement officials involved in the Kremlin critic’s recent detention.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov shrugged off the threat of sanctions, saying on March 2 that they “don’t achieve their goals,” while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow will certainly respond to any new sanctions.

“Of course, we will respond. Nobody canceled one of the rules of diplomacy — reciprocity,” Lavrov told a press conference in Moscow where he was meeting his Uzbek counterpart, Abdulaziz Kamilov.

According to two European sources, speaking on condition of anonymity to French news agency AFP, the names of the individuals targeted by the EU will be published in the bloc’s official journal on March 2 after EU foreign ministers agreed on sanctions last week.

The sources confirmed earlier reports that the officials are federal prisons administrator Aleksandr Kalashnikov, Investigative Committee chief Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of the of Russia; Prosecutor-General Igor Krasnov, and National Guard chief Viktor Zolotov.

The four would be the first individuals to be targeted under the EU’s new human rights sanctions regime, which came into effect in December 2020.

Poisoning

Navalny was detained in Moscow in January immediately upon returning from Germany, where he had recovered from what several Western labs determined was poisoning with a Novichok-type nerve agent that saw him fall ill on a flight in Siberia in August 2020.

A Moscow court in February ruled that while in Germany, he had violated the terms of parole from an older embezzlement case that is widely considered politically motivated. He was ultimately ordered to serve 2 1/2 years in prison.

Russia has denied involvement in the poisoning but Navalny claims the assassination attempt was ordered by President Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, UN human rights experts on March 1 called for an international investigation into the poisoning of Navalny, saying evidence points to the “very likely involvement” of Russian government officials.

The EU already slapped sanctions on Russia following the poisoning attack on Nalvany last year. But former U.S. President Donald Trump let the incident slide without punitive action.

The Biden administration has not said exactly what measures it intends to take over the nerve-agent poisoning but suggested it will be coordinated with European allies.

The U.S. action may also extend beyond punishment for the poisoning, to include the Solarwinds hack blamed on Russia, meddling in U.S. democracy, and other Russian malign activities.

In a major foreign-policy speech in February, Biden said he warned Putin in their first call that the days of the United States “rolling over” to Russia’s “aggressive actions” have come to an end.

“I made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different than my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions — interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens — are over,” Biden said on February 4“We will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interest and our people.”