White House Slaps Sanctions On Russia Over Navalny Poisoning

The Biden administration, signaling a tougher stance on Russia than under the Trump White House, announced Tuesday new sanctions targeting seven senior Kremlin officials in response to last year’s poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Senior administration officials, speaking to reporters on a conference call, said the sanctions also include export controls on 14 parties — nine Russian, three German and one Swiss, and one government research institute. The names of the sanctioned officials and entities will be announced Tuesday afternoon, the officials said.

They said the moves were being coordinated with the European Union.

“We’re in many ways catching up to the EU and U.K.,” one of the U.S. officials said, noting that European officials announced some of their sanctions in October and are adding to those sanctions on Tuesday.

In Tuesday’s conference call, officials also announced that a U.S. intelligence assessment had concluded with “high confidence that officers of Russia’s FSB [Federal Security Service] used a nerve agent known as Novichok to poison Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Aug. 20, 2020.”

The Kremlin has denied any role in the attack against Navalny, but toxicology tests in Germany, where the opposition leader received treatment, identified the substance as the Soviet-era Novichok, which most experts agree could only be obtained through a state actor.

The administration officials noted that Russia’s use of Novichok in the 2018 attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer, carried out in the U.K.

On his return to Russia after treatment in Germany, Navalny was promptly arrested and has since been sentenced to two years in jail. Biden administration officials reiterated a call for Navalny’s release.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on Tuesday that Russia would wait to see what measures the U.S. might take before commenting.

The latest White House sanctions are meant to signal a tougher line on Russia. The Trump administration declined to take action against Russia after the attack on Navalny, which the senior Biden administration officials described as an attempted assassination.

“The tone and subject of our conversation with Russia and our conversations about Russia, will be very different than what you saw in the previous administration,” one official said.

The Navalny poisoning is one of four areas of tension between the United States and Russia that the Biden administration has been reviewing since taking office in January. A response to the SolarWinds cyber hack, believed to be of Russian origin, is also under review, with an announcement expected within weeks, the officials said.

“The United States is neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia, nor are we seeking to escalate,” one of the officials told reporters, noting that the Biden administration is willing to work with Russia in areas that are mutually beneficial, such as the five-year extension of the New START nuclear treaty announced in January.

“We expect this relationship to be a challenge and it’s one that we are prepared for,” the official said. “Given Russia’s conduct in recent months, there will no doubt be adversarial elements and we will not shy away from those.”

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