Thu, 15 Apr 2021

US Sanctions Russians for Role in Navalny Attack

Voice of America
03 Mar 2021, 17:35 GMT+10

WHITE HOUSE - For the first time, the administration of President Joe Biden is taking punitive action against Russia.

Sanctions were imposed Tuesday on several senior Russian government officials - but not the country's president, Vladimir Putin - for what the Biden administration says is their role in the attempted murder of Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny.

The sanctions, seen by some experts as largely symbolic, are being coordinated with the European Union, which already had taken action against some Russian officials in connection with the Navalny case.

Moscow will respond in kind to the U.S. sanctions, warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference following a meeting with his Uzbek counterpart Abdulaziz... Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends a news conference in Moscow, Russia, March 2, 2021. (Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via Reuters)

"We're sending a clear signal to Russia that there are consequences for the use of chemical weapons," a senior administration official said.

"I understand that the only thing that the administration could do is to send signals," said University of Chicago Professor Konstantin Sonin, a Russian economist. "These are strong signals, but these are just signals, this is not something that has a material effect."

Among those sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department are Alexander Bortnikov, director of the FSB intelligence agency; Andrei Yarin, chief of the Kremlin's domestic policy directorate; and deputy ministers of defense Alexey Krivoruchko and Pavel Popov.

U.S. officials on Tuesday also declassified an intelligence finding putting blame for the poisoning on one of Russia's leading intelligence agencies, the FSB.

"The tone and the tenor and the type of relationship that this president intends to have with President Putin will be quite different from the last administration," said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

FILE - In this March 10, 2011, file photo, Vice President of the United States Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Russian Prime... FILE - Then-Vice President of the United States Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, March 10, 2011.

Tuesday's actions are seen as stopping short of triggering a significantly wider diplomatic rift between Washington and Moscow.

In response to a VOA question about cooperation between Biden and Putin concerning reducing nuclear missiles, proliferation by Iran and the war in Syria, Psaki said, "There are areas where we disagree, there are areas where there's significant challenge, there are also areas where we are going to work with the Russians as we would with most global partners."

The rhetoric expressed Tuesday by some key lawmakers on Capitol Hill was less diplomatic.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., speaks during a Senate Select Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing for William Burns, nominee... FILE - Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., speaks during a confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 24, 2021.

"Putin is a coward who hires hitmen to keep his grip on power, but the Russian people are tired of living under a paranoid despot," said Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "These sanctions and the addition of Russian entities to the Commerce Department's blacklist send a clear message to Moscow, but we can't stop here."

Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, is calling for the United States and its allies to "invoke the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention to demand inspections of Putin's facilities that produced the nerve agents involved in Navalny's poisoning. We need to kneecap all financial support to Putin's corrupt regime."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 3, 2020. FILE - House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 3, 2020.

The chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, Democratic of California, said, "Unless we impose meaningful costs, we cannot expect to curb behaviors from Russia that undermine both our national security and values."

Putin is unlikely to be chastened by the sanctions announced Tuesday, according to Cyrus Newlin, an associate fellow who focuses on Russia at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

"I think the record shows that Vladimir Putin is relatively unconcerned about what the West thinks about him and his regime and increasingly how the West will respond," Newlin told VOA.

Navalny was hospitalized in August after falling ill on a flight in Serbia. He was medically evacuated to Germany, where doctors determined he had been poisoned. Medical experts concluded the leader of the Russia of the Future party was exposed to the chemical nerve agent Novichok. Russia denied any involvement in the matter.

TOPSHOT - This handout picture posted on September 15, 2020 on the Instagram account of @navalny shows Russian opposition... FILE - This handout picture posted Sept. 15, 2020, on the Instagram account of @navalny shows Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny with his family at Berlin's Charite hospital.

Upon recovery, Navalny returned home early this year and was immediately arrested. He was sent to a prison outside Moscow to serve a 2-and-a-half-year prison sentence for violating the terms of his probation while convalescing in Germany.

The Biden administration has called for his release.

Other U.S. action

In other action Tuesday, the State Department implemented measures "against multiple Russian individuals and entities associated with the Russian Federation's chemical weapons program and defense and intelligence sectors."

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said it was adding 14 entities in Russia, Germany and Switzerland to the Entity List - an international trade blacklist - "based on their proliferation activities in support of Russia's weapons of mass destruction programs and chemical weapons activities."

U.S. officials say they will soon announce sanctions as a response to a cyberattack linked to Russia on U.S. government computers, known as the SolarWinds hack.

VOA's Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.

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