The United States announced the imposition of sanctions on Russian figures for poisoning the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.
US officials said that the sanctions affect a number of officials and entities in Russia, and that they come in coordination with similar steps by the European Union.
The officials added that US intelligence services concluded that the Russian government was behind the attack on Navalny, using gas that nearly destroyed him in Siberia last year.
Navalny is considered the most critical critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Moscow denies involvement in the poisoning of Navalny and challenges this conclusion.
What Are the US sanctions؟
US officials said at a press conference that the sanctions are targeting seven prominent Russian officials and 14 entities linked to chemical production. They did not provide further details.
“Russia’s attempt to kill Mr. Navalny follows a disturbing pattern of Russia’s use of chemical weapons,” one of the officials said.
These are the first sanctions imposed by President Joe Biden’s administration on Russia.
Biden has taken a more hawkish stance toward President Putin than his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
After the US President called his Russian counterpart last month, Biden said he had made it clear to Putin that the days when the United States was “an easy target for Russian hostilities, interference in our elections, cyberattacks, and poisoning of citizens are over.”
What about the European Union?
In a coordinated move, the European Union announced on Tuesday the imposition of sanctions on 4 Russian officials, namely the head of the prison sector, Alexander Kalashnikov, the head of the Federal Investigation Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, the Attorney General, Igor Krasnov, and the commander of the National Guard, Viktor Zolotov.
Sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes.
The BBC correspondent in Brussels, Kevin Connolly, says that the sanctions represent a compromise between the Baltic states that view Russia as a dangerous neighbor and countries like Germany that depend on Russian gas.
The move follows previous sanctions imposed by the European Union. In October, he targeted six officials and the Center for Chemical Weapons Research, accused of direct involvement in the poisoning process. Russia responded to the sanctions in kind.
How did Moscow respond?
The Russian government’s response came even before European and US sanctions were confirmed.
Earlier Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeated his claim that the West “is hiding facts that can help understand what happened” to Navalny, and is imposing unjust sanctions on Russia.
“We have repeatedly expressed our position regarding unilateral sanctions that lack legitimacy that are used by colleagues from the United States and those following their example, (that is) the European Union,” he added.
He added that his country would reciprocate any sanctions.
Who is Alexei Navalny?
He is an anti-corruption activist and has long been considered the most prominent object of opposition to President Putin’s rule.
Navalny, a 44-year-old blogger, has millions of followers on social media. He helped several of his supporters win the 2020 municipal elections in Siberia.
He was poisoned and fell into a coma during a flight to Siberia in August. He was then transferred to Germany, where he recovered. In January, he decided to return to Moscow and was arrested upon arrival.
Last month, a court concluded that Navalny had breached the terms of a previous ruling issued against him in the embezzlement case, because he had not gone to the office responsible for monitoring him during his time in Germany for treatment.
The prison sentence, which had been suspended, became an actual punishment. Last week, he was transferred from his detention center in Moscow to a penal facility to serve his prison term.
Navalny and his supporters say all the accusations against him are politically motivated. Biden and the European Union leaders called for his immediate release.