WASHINGTON (CN) — Responding to a government intelligence report that traced last year’s poisoning of Kremlin opposition leader Alexei Navalny back to Moscow, the Biden administration drew a line in the sand with Russia Tuesday as it issued sanctions on several of the country’s officials and businesses.
Issued alongside demands that Russia free Nalvany, the U.S. sanctions were announced in stride with a set by the European Union. While the EU had previously imposed sanctions against several Russian officials involved with the poisoning, some had criticized the group of nations for not going far enough. The latest effort from the 27 nations involves a European-wide travel and asset freeze for four Russian officials.
Since the August 2020 poisoning, the Kremlin has denied any role in the attack against its 44-year-old critic.
But White House officials said in a conference call with the press Tuesday that a U.S. intelligence assessment found with "high confidence” that Russian Federal Security Service agents used the nerve agent Novichok to poison Navalny. As the toxic tea was developed by Soviet researchers, it is usually used by state actors.
Nalvany became ill from the agent while on a domestic flight, then flown to Germany for treatment. Upon his return in January, state officials promptly detained him for purported parole violations, spurring protests across the country that continued through his trial and sentencing to two-and-a-half years spent in a notorious penal colony.
U.S. officials have vowed to release more details on the sanctions later Tuesday after noting on the press call that they are targeting seven senior Russian officials as well as to restrict exports to Russia. These actions are being taken with the goal of sending a message to Putin to forgo the use of chemical weapons. Novichok was also found to have been used in 2018 against a Russian defector Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.
Under the U.S. Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act, the Biden administration’s sanctions also target 13 businesses and another enterprise that help produce biological and chemical agents.
The move marks a staunch departure from former President Donald Trump’s chummy relations with Russia, wherein the 45th president failed to call out the country for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election among other attacks.
The Biden administration has vowed to call Putin out on its international interferences, including its recent hacking of U.S. federal agencies and private businesses via a network management system distributed by the Texas-based company SolarWinds.
When Biden spoke with Putin after assuming office in January, he told the foreign leader the United States “will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies.”
The officials sanctioned by the EU against are Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation; Igor Krasnov, the prosecutor-general; Viktor Zolotov, head of the National Guard; and Alexander Kalashnikov, head of the Federal Prison Service.
Europe’s top human rights court has also ordered Russia to release Navalny.