Fri, 23 Apr 2021

The United States and the European Union are expected to take coordinated action against Russia as soon as March 2 over the nerve-agent poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, a move Moscow said would 'definitely' prompt a response.

European diplomatic sources said on March 1 that EU member states approved sanctions on four senior Russian justice and law enforcement officials involved in the Kremlin critic's recent detention.

Meanwhile, two sources in President Joe Biden's administration were quoted by Reuters and CNN as saying the United States plans to take action against Russia for the poisoning of Navalny.

Asked by RFE/RL about the impending announcement, a State Department spokesperson said they would not "preview potential sanctions actions."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov shrugged off the threat of sanctions, saying on March 2 that they 'don't achieve their goals,' while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow will certainly respond to any new sanctions.

'Of course, we will respond. Nobody canceled one of the rules of diplomacy -- reciprocity,' Lavrov told a press conference in Moscow where he was meeting his Uzbek counterpart Abdulaziz Kamilov.

According to two European sources, speaking on condition of anonymity to French news agency AFP, the names of the individuals targeted by the EU will be published in the bloc's official journal on March 2 after EU foreign ministers agreed on sanctions last week.

The sources confirmed earlier reports that the officials are Aleksandr Kalashnikov, federal prisons administrator; Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee of Russia; Igor Krasnov, prosecutor-general; and Viktor Zolotov, director of the National Guard.

The four would be the first individuals to be targeted under the EU's new human rights sanctions regime, which came into effect in December 2020.

Poisoning

Navalny was detained in Moscow in January immediately upon returning from Germany, where he had recovered from what several Western labs determined was poisoning with a Novichok-type nerve agent that saw him fall ill on a flight in Siberia in August 2020.

A Moscow court in February ruled that while in Germany, he had violated the terms of parole from an older embezzlement case that is widely considered politically motivated. He was ultimately ordered to serve 2 1/2 years in prison.

Russia has denied involvement in the poisoning but Navalny claims the assassination attempt was ordered by President Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, UN human rights experts on March 1 called for an international investigation into the poisoning of Navalny, saying evidence points to the 'very likely involvement' of Russian government officials.

The EU already slapped sanctions on Russia following the poisoning attack on Nalvany last year. But former U.S. President Donald Trump let the incident slide without punitive action.

The Biden administration has not said exactly what measures it intends to take over the nerve-agent poisoning but suggested it will be coordinated with European allies.

The U.S. action may also extend beyond punishment for the poisoning, to include the Solarwinds hack blamed on Russia, meddling in U.S. democracy, and other Russian malign activities.

In a major foreign policy speech in February, Biden said he warned Putin in their first call that the days of the United States 'rolling over' to Russia's "aggressive actions" have come to an end.

'I made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different than my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia's aggressive actions -- interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens -- are over,' Biden said on February 4. 'We will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interest and our people.'

With reporting by AFP, CNN, dpa, Reuters, and Interfax

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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