Menendez threatens sanctions on Russia if Navalny not given medical treatment

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)
Greg Nash

The top Senate Democrat with oversight of foreign affairs said the U.S. is prepared to impose sanctions on Russia if imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny is not immediately released and given proper medical treatment.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, offered concrete action the U.S. can take if Navalny’s situation worsens, during a committee meeting Wednesday.

The prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin is in a prison hospital in a reportedly near-death situation, following three weeks of a hunger strike protesting for better medical treatment to address severe back pain and numbness in his legs. 

Menendez called for Navalny’s immediate release and raised the risk of imposing sanctions against Moscow. 

“We must be perfectly clear that if he is not afforded this care, we are prepared to impose sanctions, not only on individuals, but on the Russian banking and financial sector,” he said. “This is barbarism playing out in real time, and we cannot be silent.”

The call by Menendez echoes concern from Biden administration officials, but goes farther in naming specific actions the U.S. can take if Navalny dies.

Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday that the Biden administration has “communicated to the Russian government” that the U.S. considers Moscow accountable for Navalny’s treatment while in custody. 

“We are looking at a variety of different costs that we would impose,” Sullivan said. “And I’m not going to telegraph that publicly at this point, but we have communicated that there will be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies.”

In March, the U.S. joined with the European Union to impose sanctions on Russia over the conclusion that the Kremlin was behind a poisoning attack on Navalny with a banned chemical weapon, the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. 

Navalny was poisoned in August. He was then evacuated to Germany, in a coma, for emergency treatment and recovery. He was arrested upon his return to Russia in January, with the government accusing Navalny of violating the terms of a probation that prohibited him from leaving the country and sentenced to more than two years in prison. 

The U.S. and international allies criticized Navalny’s arrest and the original charges as “politically motivated.”

Tags Bob Menendez Jake Sullivan Russia Vladimir Putin

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