Moscow City Court / Tass via Getty Images
Updated at 1:15 p.m. ET
The Biden administration, which has signaled a tougher stance on Russia than under Trump’s White House, announced Tuesday new sanctions Targeted seven senior Kremlin officials in response to the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny last year.
Senior administrative officials, speaking with reporters on a conference call, said the sanctions also include export controls on 14 parties – nine Russian, three German and one Swiss, and three Russian state research institutes, most of which are believed to be involved in the production of chemical and biological agents.
Finance later released one list of the sanctioned persons. They are: Aleksandr Bortinkov, Director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the KGB; Alexander Kalashnikov, Director of the Russian Correctional Service (FSIN); Sergey Kiriyenko, Deputy Chief of Staff of Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Prime Minister; Russia’s Attorney General Igor Krasnov; deputy defense minister lieutenant colonel Aleksey Krivoruchko and general of the army Pavel Popov;; and Andrei Yarin, Director of Domestic Policy of the Russian President.
The Ministry of Finance also announced sanctions against the FSB and the GRU, the secret service of the Russian military.
In a statement, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said the measures were taken “to send a clear signal that Russia’s use of chemical weapons and human rights violations have grave consequences. Any use of chemical weapons is unacceptable and violates international standards. “
US officials said the steps would be coordinated with the European Union, despite human rights activists previously criticizing the EU for failing to target key Russian officials allegedly involved. The EU on Tuesday announced new sanctions against senior Russian officials for the attack and prosecution of Navalny, Putin’s best-known political enemy.
“We are catching up with the EU and the UK in many ways,” said one US official, noting that European officials announced some of their sanctions in October and added to them on Tuesday.
In Tuesday’s conference call, officials also announced that a US intelligence assessment concluded with “high confidence” that Russian intelligence officers “used a nerve agent known as Novichok to poison Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on August 20, 2020”.
Speaking at a Press conference on Monday in GenevaUnited Nations Special Rapporteurs Agnès Callamard and Irene Khan said they had reached the same conclusion that “Russia is responsible for the attempted arbitrary murder of Mr Navalny”.
The Kremlin has denied any role in the attack on Navalny, but toxicological tests in Germany, where the opposition leader was treated, identified the substance as Soviet-era novichok, which most experts agree can only be obtained through a state actor.
Administration officials also noted that Russia used Novichok in the UK attempted assassination attempt in 2018 on Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer
On his return to Russia after treatment in Germany, 44-year-old Navalny was arrested immediately and later sentenced to two years in a penal colony. Thousands of protesters have been arrested in Russia in recent weeks after publicly expressing their support for Navalny.
During Tuesday’s briefing, Biden administration officials repeated a call for Navalny to be released. Last month the European Court of Human Rights made a similar pleabut was turned away by the Kremlin.
The recent sanctions by the White House are intended to signal a tougher line against Russia. The Trump administration declined to take action against Russia following the attack on Navalny, which senior officials in the Biden administration described as an attempted assassination attempt.
“The tone and theme of our conversation with Russia and our talks on Russia will be very different from what you saw in the previous administration,” said one official.
The Biden government planned further steps to respond to what officials called “a series of destabilizing measures” by Russia.
As part of the measures, the property of the sanctioned persons may be confiscated by the US and US citizens are prohibited from doing business with them. The practical impact of the sanctions is limited: the seven Russian officials have little, if any, financial interests in the United States.
The Navalny poisoning is one of four areas of conflict between the United States and Russia that the Biden administration has been reviewing since it took office in January. A response to the SolarWinds cyber hack, believed to be of Russian origin, is currently under investigation. An announcement is expected within a few weeks, officials said.
“The United States is not trying to reset our relations with Russia, nor do we want to escalate,” one of the officials told reporters, noting that the Biden administration is ready to work with Russia in areas that are mutually beneficial such as the renewal of the new START nuclear weapons treaty announced in January for five years after it was suspended by the Trump administration.
“We expect this relationship to be a challenge for which we are prepared,” said the official. “Given Russia’s behavior over the past few months, there will undoubtedly be contradicting elements and we will not shy away from them.”
The Obama administration imposed sanctions on Moscow for meddling in the 2016 presidential election by banning dozens of Russian diplomats.
Former President Donald Trump, however, generally took a softer approach to Russia. He repeatedly denied evidence from US intelligence agencies confirming Russian hacking in the elections. Trump also downplayed the SolarWinds attack, despite being named by his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “a very significant effort.”