The United States and the European Union have announced coordinated sanctions against Russian officials over the poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, as the White House sets a firmer tone with Moscow while also demonstrating a united front against Kremlin aggression.
Washington said on March 2 it was placing sanctions on seven senior Russian officials after a U.S. intelligence assessment concluded “with high confidence” that officers from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) were behind the activist’s August poisoning.
A U.S. Treasury statement later named the Russian officials as FSB chief Nikolai Bortnikov, deputy chief of presidential staff Sergei Kiriyenko, Deputy Defense Ministers Aleksei Krivoruchko and Pavel Popov, Prosecutor-General Igor Krasnov, Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) chief Aleksandr Kalashnikov, and Andrei Yarin, chief of the Kremlin’s domestic policy directorate.
The announcement came on the heels of EU sanctions against four senior officials: FSIN chief Kalashnikov, Investigative Committee chief Aleksandr Bastrykin, Prosecutor-General 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.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States wanted to coordinate the timing of the sanctions with the EU to “send a powerful message” to the Kremlin.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration said Washington was also imposing export restrictions on 14 parties involved in biological and chemical production, including nine commercial entities in Russia.
“The Kremlin’s use of chemical weapons to silence a political opponent and intimidate others demonstrates its flagrant disregard for international norms,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said.
“We join the EU in condemning Aleksei Navalny’s poisoning as well as his arrest and imprisonment by the Russian government,” she added.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the United States shared the EU’s concerns regarding Russia’s “deepening authoritarianism.”
He called the jailing of Navalny “politically motivated” and reiterated Washington’s call for his release “immediately and unconditionally.”
Psaki said the Biden administration was currently carrying out a review of the United States’ relationship with Russia.
That review includes determining whether Russia was behind the Solar Winds hack that compromised government agency networks and whether it paid bounties to Afghan fighters to kill U.S. soldiers.
“We of course reserve the right to take additional steps and additional actions at the conclusion,” she said, referring to possible additional sanctions against Russia.
She declined to say whether they would include limitations on purchases of ruble-denominated debt, which would potentially impact Russia’s economy.
Critics say U.S. sanctions against Russian officials, like those imposed today, have little impact on the Kremlin’s behavior.
The sanctions block any property owned by the officials that comes into U.S. possession, such as dollar bank accounts, and also prevent U.S. individuals from conducting business with them.
The United States put sanctions on Russia following a chemical-weapons attack against double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain nearly three years ago.
Psaki said the sanctions were not a “silver bullet” and that the Biden administration expected the Russia relationship to remain “a challenge.”
“We are prepared for that. And we are neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate,” she said.
However, she said the “tone and the tenor” of the U.S. relationship with Putin will be “quite different” compared with the Trump administration.
Former President Donald Trump had a friendly relationship with Putin and repeatedly failed to call out the Kremlin for malign activities, including the poisoning of Navalny.
In a major foreign-policy speech in February, Biden said he warned Putin during their first call in January that the days of the United States “rolling over” to Russia’s “aggressive actions” have come to an end.
“We will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interest and our people,” Biden said February 4.
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.
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.
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, Putin’s most vocal critic, 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.
A senior U.S. official said the sanctions imposed by Washington on March 2 were playing “catch-up” with those announced by Brussels.