US sanctions seven Russian officials for role in Navalny poisoning

The sanctions are the first from the Biden administration on Russia

(FILES) In this file photo opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to pro-Kremlin activists during an unauthorized anti-Putin rally on May 5, 2018 in Moscow, two days ahead of Vladimir Putin's inauguration for a fourth Kremlin term.
 The United States on March 2, 2021 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.
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The Biden administration will impose sanctions on seven Russian officials and limit exports of 14 entities involved in chemical production over the poisoning of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny last summer.

The action, co-ordinated with the EU, was announced in a phone call with reporters on Tuesday. Biden officials said the US intelligence community has concluded “with high confidence” that the Russian Federal Security Service used the chemical agent novichok to poison Mr Navalny on August 20.

The US officials urged the release of the dissident, who was arrested and sentenced upon his return to Russia from medical treatment in Berlin last January.

The sanctions, which are the first from the Biden administration against Russia, were issued against seven Kremlin officials and tighten exports on 14 chemical and biological Russian companies.

The Biden administration is taking a step further than his predecessor by publicly stating Mr Navalny was poisoned by the Federal Security Service.

"We believe that the United States and our partners must be clear and impose costs when Russia’s behaviour crosses boundaries that are respected by responsible nations, and we believe there should be guardrails on how these adversarial aspects of our relationship play out," a US official said on the call.

"The United States is not trying to reset our relations with Russia, nor are we attempting to escalate," he added.

The seven Russian government officials sanctioned were Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service; Andrei Yarin, chief of the Presidential Policy Directorate; Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of staff of the Presidential Executive Office; Aleksey Krivoruchko, deputy minister of defence; Pavel Popov, deputy minister of defence; Alexander Kalashnikov, director of the Federal Penitentiary Service; and Igor Krasnov, the prosecutor general.

“The Kremlin’s use of chemical weapons to silence a political opponent and intimidate others demonstrates its flagrant disregard for international norms,” said US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen.

In a statement, Secretary of State Tony Blinken called the Navalny poisoning an “attempted assassination".

“The United States joins the European Union in condemning and responding to the Russian Federation’s use of a chemical weapon in the attempted assassination of Russian opposition figure [Mr] Navalny in August 2020 and his subsequent imprisonment in January 2021,” Mr Blinken said.

The US Department of Commerce also added 14 Russian companies to the Entity List due to their "proliferation activities in support of Russia’s weapons of mass destruction programmes and chemical weapons activities".