U.S. Matches EU, U.K. Sanctions on Russia for Navalny Attack

The Biden administration announced its first sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, punishing the Kremlin for the poisoning and jailing of opposition leader Alexey Navalny in a sign of deepening tensions between the nuclear powers.

The penalties -- like those adopted by the European Union -- target senior Russian law enforcement officials, as well as matching sanctions the EU and the U.K. imposed earlier on other Russians allied with President Vladimir Putin in response to the attempted murder of Navalny.

The sanctions will help set the tone for Joe Biden’s relationship with Putin, whom the new U.S. president has said he will treat as more of an adversary than his predecessor, Donald Trump, did. The ruble recovered sharply after Bloomberg News reported the actions, reversing earlier losses as investors were encouraged by the sanctions’ relatively narrow scope.

“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 in a statement. “We join the EU in condemning Alexei Navalny’s poisoning as well as his arrest and imprisonment by the Russian government.”

The U.S. demands the release of Navalny, his allies and others wrongfully detained in Russia and an end to the persecution of his supporters, one senior administration official told reporters in a briefing.

Viktor Zolotov, the head of Russia’s National Guard; Igor Krasnov, the country’s prosecutor general; Alexander Kalashnikov, the Federal Penitentiary Service chief; and Alexander Bastrykin, who leads the country’s Investigative Committee, are the targets of the EU’s latest penalties, according to Peter Stano, foreign affairs spokesman for the EU.

U.S. Matches EU, U.K. Sanctions on Russia for Navalny Attack

The 27 EU member states formally adopted the sanctions on Tuesday, Stano said. The measures will be published in the afternoon, he said.

“The EU has been clear and consistent in its condemnation of the continuous deterioration of the human rights situation in Russia in general and the arbitrary arrest, prosecution and sentencing of Mr Navalny in particular,” Stano said in an email. “A strong and united reaction from our international partners sharing the same values as the EU can only reinforce the effectiveness of our actions and help reach the desired result.”

The U.S. measures will involve the State, Treasury and Commerce Departments, a senior administration official said in the briefing.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would “definitely respond” to the new restrictions, though he didn’t elaborate.

The targets of EU and U.K. asset freezes and travel bans in October were Aleksandr Bortnikov, leader of Russia’s domestic spy agency; Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of staff in the presidential administration; Andrei Yarin, head of the presidential administration’s domestic policy directorate; Aleksei Krivoruchko and Pavel Popov, two deputy ministers of defense; and Sergei Menyaylo, Putin’s envoy to the Siberian Federal District.

The bloc and the U.K. also froze the assets of one Russian entity: the State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology.

Navalny returned to Russia in January after being treated in Germany for a nerve agent attack. He was detained shortly after landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. Western governments and Navalny have accused the Kremlin of being behind the attempted assassination. Russia denies that and has said that Navalny’s imprisonment is an internal matter.

Last month, Biden called for Navalny’s release, saying he was “targeted for exposing corruption and should be released immediately and without condition.”

Since then, Navalny has been sentenced and begun serving a two-and-a-half-year term. Last week, he was moved to a notorious penal camp in the Vladimir region about 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of the Russian capital.

U.S. Matches EU, U.K. Sanctions on Russia for Navalny Attack

During his first call with the Russian leader, in late January, Biden said he “made it clear to President Putin in a manner very different from my predecessor that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions, interfering with our elections, cyber attacks, poisoning citizens are over.”

Biden called the jailing of Navalny “politically motivated.” His administration also has Moscow in its sights for what U.S. intelligence agencies indicate was Russia’s likely role in the SolarWinds Corp. cyber attack.

One of the senior administration officials said that punitive actions related to the SolarWinds hack would likely be announced within weeks.

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