US and EU launch sanctions on Russian officials over Navalny

The US and EU have launched sanctions against Russian officials accused of playing a role in poisoning and jailing Russia’s most prominent opposition politician Alexei Navalny

The co-ordinated measures announced on Tuesday came in the wake of an assessment from the US intelligence community that Russian security services used a Soviet-developed nerve agent called novichok to poison Navalny in August, according to a senior Biden administration official.

The US official said the alleged attack on Navalny, who has been jailed following his return to Moscow, was part of “an alarming pattern of chemical weapons used by Russia”.

“No country, let alone a permanent member of the UN Security Council, should engage in or conduct such actions,” said the official.

The US will make public the names of those who face sanctions later on Tuesday.

The US sanctions targeted seven Russian government officials, while the EU sanctions named four officials it has accused of involvement in Navalny’s jailing and repression of peaceful protests.

The European bloc has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Alexander Bastrykin, head of the investigative committee of the Russian Federation; Igor Krasnov, prosecutor-general; Viktor Zolotov, head of the national guard; and Alexander Kalashnikov, head of the Federal Prison Service.

The sanctions, which also forbid people and entities in the EU from funding the quartet, are the first deployed under a new human rights sanctions regime agreed by the European bloc last year, modelled on the US Magnistky Act.

The EU had previously imposed sanctions on six top Russian officials in October over their alleged involvement in the chemical weapon poisoning. Several EU countries concluded Navalny was targeted with a novichok nerve agent.

The sanctions announced on Tuesday fell short of targeting prominent oligarchs, which Navalny’s team had urged the EU and US to do.

Russia’s rouble, which is sensitive to sanction risks, rose more than 1 per cent against the dollar on Tuesday on media reports that the US and EU would target government officials and forgo sanctions that would harm Russia’s economy. 

The senior government official said the Biden administration was seeking neither reset nor escalation in the US relationship with Russia, but would “impose costs” on Moscow in cases of egregious behaviour. 

The Biden administration has promised to take a tougher approach to Russia than Donald Trump, whose administration was marred by accusations of cosying up to Moscow. Russia has denied any involvement in the poisoning. The EU is gripped by longstanding internal divisions over Russia, with some countries, notably France, having advocated a policy of outreach to the Kremlin.

The US official said Washington was likely to respond to Russia over other concerns in the coming “weeks”. Washington is still considering its response to Moscow over a sweeping cyber attack that affected at least nine federal agencies and a hundred companies. The US intelligence officials have said the attack was “likely of Russian origin”.

US intelligence is also still assessing allegations that Russians offered bounties to kill Americans in Afghanistan and claims of election interference in the 2020 polls.

Navalny fell unconscious on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow in August and was later flown to Berlin’s Charité hospital, where he spent several weeks in a coma. After returning to Russia he was arrested on what the senior administration described as “spurious charges” and was sentenced to more than three years in jail last month.

Additional reporting by Henry Foy in Moscow

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