US imposes sanctions on seven senior Russians over Alexei Navalny poisoning

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Nick Allen
·3 min read
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Navalny - AFP
Navalny - AFP

The United States last night imposed sanctions on the director of Russia's FSB security agency after concluding it carried out the poisoning attack on Vladimir Putin's leading critic Alexei Navalny.

Alexander Bortnikov, who has led the KGB's successor since 2008, was one of seven senior Russian officials targeted by the US.

Bortnikov had already been sanctioned by European Union in October.

Others sanctioned by the US included Alexander Kalashnikov, Russia's prisons administrator, Andrei Yarin, the Kremlin’s domestic policy chief, and deputy defence ministers Alexei Krivoruchko and Pavel Popov.

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said: "The US government has exercised its authorities to send a clear signal that Russia's use of chemical weapons, and abuse of human rights, have severe consequences."

Those sanctioned will have any US assets frozen, US transactions with them subject to prosecution, and they will not be able to travel to the US.

The largely symbolic action was the first taken against Russia by Joe Biden, five weeks into his presidency.

US officials said it was intended to signal a tougher line against the Kremlin than was pursued by Donald Trump.

The US also announced sanctions against 13 Russian businesses, and a government research Institute.

Officials said they were targeting companies involved in producing materials that could be used in biological and chemical agents.

They also renewed demands that Mr Navalny, the opposition leader, be released after being jailed in January.

US intelligence agents had determined with "high confidence" that the FSB used the nerve agent Novichok against Mr Navalny in August, a senior official in Washington said.

Mr Navalny fell violently ill when he was taking a domestic flight and was rushed for treatment in Germany, where doctors said he had been poisoned with Novichok.

He returned to Moscow in January and was immediately arrested.

Navalny - AFP
Navalny - AFP

There were no US sanctions specifically aimed at Vladimir Putin or oligarchs loyal to him.

A US official said the sanctions were drawn up in "close contact" with the European Union and the UK.

Hours later the EU sanctioned four Russians for their role in the jailing of Mr Navalny and the crackdown on demonstrations against his imprisonment.

The bloc used its new Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime to punish the Russian officials with travel bans and asset freezes.

People and entities in the EU will be banned from making funds available to them.

Those targeted included Alexander Bastrykin, whose Investigative Committee handles inquiries into major crimes and reports directly to Mr Putin.

The others were the prisons chief Mr Kalashnikov, along with Igor Krasnov, Russia's prosecutor-general, and Viktor Zolotov, head of Russia's National Guard.

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said: "The UK welcomes EU and US sanctions against those responsible for the poisoning and arbitrary detention of Navalny.

"We will continue to work closely with international partners to hold Russia to account for failing to uphold their chemical weapons and human rights obligations."

Anti-Putin campaigners had hoped for sanctions that would put pressure on the Russian economy.

The EU and UK had previously sanctioned six senior Russian officials in October, a move that was not joined by the US under Mr Trump.

A US official said it was "in a way catching up to the EU and UK" with its latest move.

Denouncing the sanctions Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "Such a policy does not achieve its goals."

The US has been conducting intelligence assessments on four areas regarding "malign" Russia activity, a senior official said.

Those areas were the Navalny poisoning, allegations of Russia paying bounties for the killing of US soldiers in Afghanistan, the SolarWinds hacking attack on US computers, and interference in US elections.

The other three areas may lead to further sanctions later.

Another senior US official said the relationship with Russia under Mr Biden was going to be "challenging".

The official said: "We're not seeking to escalate, we're not seeking to reset. We are seeking stability and predictability, and areas of constructive work with Russia where it's in our interest to do that."