Biden to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning, jailing
The Biden administration on Tuesday announced new sanctions on Russia in response to Moscow’s poisoning and jailing of Alexei Navalny, accusing Russia’s main intelligence agency of attempting to assassinate the opposition leader last year.
The administration is imposing sanctions on seven members of the Russian government and export controls on several business entities involved in biological agent production. The sanctions include Russian officials and a Russian research center that were previously sanctioned by the European Union and United Kingdom in October in connection with Navalny’s poisoning.
The sanctions, which are being coordinated with EU partners, come after an intelligence community assessment concluded with “high confidence” that officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service used the Novichok nerve agent to poison Navalny in August, Biden administration officials said.
“We’re sending a clear signal to Russia that there are consequences for the use of chemical weapons,” a senior administration official said.
The sanctions are the first to be imposed by the U.S. on Russia over Navalny’s poisoning.
The State Department is expanding sanctions on Russia under the 1991 Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act. The Trump administration previously sanctioned Russia under the law in response to the March 2018 poisoning of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Great Britain.
The Treasury Department on Tuesday is designating seven senior members of the Russian government: FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov, Chief of the Presidential Policy Directorate Andrei Yarin, First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko, Deputy Minister of Defense Aleksey Krivoruchko, Deputy Minister of Defense Pavel Popov, Federal Penitentiary Service director Alexander Kalashnikov, and Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov.
The Commerce Department is also adding 14 parties to its entity list because of their involvement in biological agent and chemical agent production, including nine commercial entities in Russia, three in Germany and one in Switzerland.
The sanctions reflect President Biden’s effort to confront and penalize Russia for bad behavior while also trying to work with it on matters of mutual concern. The U.S. and Russia agreed to extend the New START nuclear arms treaty with Moscow for a full five years earlier this year.
At the same time, Biden has forcefully condemned Russia’s behavior and raised the matter in his first phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin since taking office in January. His approach has diverged from that of his predecessor, former President Trump, who often spoke warmly of Putin and questioned assessments of Russia’s culpability in malign efforts.
The Trump administration did not impose sanctions on Russians in response to Navalny’s poisoning, nor did it ever publicly blame Moscow for it.
“Our goal is to have a relationship with Russia that is predictable and stable. Where there are opportunities for it to be constructive, and it is in our interest, we intend to pursue them. Given Russia’s conduct in recent years, there will also undoubtedly be adversarial elements and we will not shy away from those,” a senior administration official said. “The United States is neither trying to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate.”
Confronting Russia will be a challenge for Biden, and it is unlikely the actions taken Tuesday will in any way alter Moscow’s behavior.
Members of Congress from both parties welcomed the news as a step toward holding Russia accountable for its behavior.
“These designations mark an important first step in ensuring we once again stand with our allies against Kremlin aggression and for the international norms against chemical weapons,” said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).
“However, substantial work remains in restricting the ability of corrupt Russian actors to continue accessing the U.S. financial system and I expect the administration to take additional measures to shore up our financial defenses against dirty Russian money,” he added.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he supported the sanctions, but called on the Biden administration to “fully” implement sanctions related to Russia’s construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline “in order to send an unmistakably strong message to the Kremlin.”
The EU and U.K. last October imposed sanctions targeting six Russian officials and a Russian research center, the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology; the U.S. actions on Tuesday will match those taken by EU partners.
The EU is also expected to announce sanctions on four individuals on Tuesday, two of whom the U.S. intends to sanction and two of whom have already been subject to sanctions in the U.S.
The Biden administration has undertaken a sweeping review of Russian behavior, including the treatment of Navalny and also its involvement in the SolarWinds hack, election meddling efforts and alleged bounties on U.S. service members in Afghanistan.
An administration official told reporters that more actions would be forthcoming around each of these issues “in the coming weeks,” stressing that there would be “more to come.”
The Washington Post reported last month that the Biden administration was planning to sanction Russia for the breach of at least nine federal agencies and 100 private sector companies that has become known as the SolarWinds hack.
Germany, France and Sweden, as well as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons global chemical watchdog, judged last year that Navalny was poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent.
Navalny recovered from the August attack in Germany and returned to Russia in January. He was swiftly jailed and sentenced by a Russian court to a 32-month prison term for violating the terms of his probation.
The U.S. and its European partners have condemned Navalny’s jailing as politically motivated and demanded his release. The international community has also denounced Russia’s imprisonment of protesters who have demonstrated in support of Navalny and against the Kremlin’s actions.
“We reiterate our call for the Russian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Navalny,” a senior administration official said Tuesday.
Updated at 1:25 p.m.