WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on seven senior Russians as it said its intelligence concluded that Moscow was behind the poisoning of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
In action coordinated with the EU, the United States renewed demands that Russia free Navalny, who was arrested in January upon his return to Moscow as he spurred massive rallies through his allegations of corruption by President Vladimir Putin.
“The intelligence community assesses with high confidence that officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service FSB used a nerve agent known as Novichok to poison Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on August 20, 2020,” a senior US official said.
Officials said that the United States would impose sanctions on “seven senior members of the Russian government” with the details expected to be released later Tuesday.
European Council chief says EU has no plans to lift punishing sanctions against Moscow
They also said that the United States would restrict exports to Russia as it vowed that President Joe Biden would take a harder line than his predecessor Donald Trump, who voiced admiration for Putin.
“We’re sending a clear signal to Russia that there are clear consequences to the use of chemical weapons,” another official said.
Navalny, 44, fell violently ill when he was on a domestic flight.
He was rushed to treatment in Germany where doctors said he had been poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent developed by Soviet researchers and which was also blamed in a 2018 attack in England against Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter and Yulia.
Conflict in Ukraine
In Kiev, European Council chief Charles Michel said on Tuesday the EU has no plans to lift punishing sanctions against Russia that were imposed over the conflict in Ukraine.
Ukraine has been fighting Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms to support the separatists.
Michel, who on Tuesday began his two-day visit to Ukraine with a trip to the country’s war-torn east, said “Russia has not reciprocated Ukraine’s positive steps” to settle the conflict.
“That’s why our economic sanctions against Russia will remain in place,” he said in his address to the media, accompanied by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“Russia is a party to this conflict, and not a mediator,” Michel added.
He also reiterated Brussels’ support for Kiev, announcing the launch this year of a new programme to boost economic development and public services in war-scarred eastern areas.
“The people of Ukraine are not alone. We are on your side,” he said.
Michel’s visit comes during an increase in violence as eight Ukrainian servicemen have been killed since mid-February, shattering a ceasefire brokered last year.
The fierce fighting that erupted after Moscow’s takeover of Crimea has claimed more than 13,000 lives, according to the United Nations, but the number of new fatalities has been decreasing in recent years.
EU leaders in December extended until mid-2021 the sanctions that target whole sectors of the Russian economy including its valuable oil businesses.
Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2021