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U.S. slaps sanctions on 7 senior Russians in response to poisoning of Alexei Navalny

The U.S. is slapping sanctions on seven senior Russian officials in response to Russia's 'disgraceful and unacceptable behavior' in carrying out the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the Biden Administration said Tuesday.

The sanctions come on top of previous U.S. sanctions, and compound further sanctions action being taken by the European Union Tuesday in response to the poisoning that the U.S. assesses was carried out by Russia's Federal Security Bureau (FSB).

'We’re sending a clear signal to Russia that there are clear consequences for the use of chemical weapons,' said a senior administration on a press call to announce the effort. 

An official on the call said Russia’s 'attempt to kill Mr. Navalny follows an alarming pattern of chemical weapons use by Russia.' 

Senior U.S. officials cited 'an alarming pattern of chemical weapons use by Russia' as they announced new sanctions on Russia for the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The list includes officials in Russian President Vladimir Putin's government

The administration also said Russia imprisoned Navalany upon his return to Russia from Germany on 'politically motivated grounds,' and called for Russia to 'unconfidtionally and immediately release Mr. Navalny,' an official said. 

'We share the EU's assessment that Russia is moving forward toward authoritarianism,' an official added. 

Officials also pointed to the 2018 Novichok poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England. 

President Joe Biden's decision to impose sanctions for Navalny's 2020 poisoning reflects a harder stance than taken by his predecessor, Donald Trump, who let the incident last August pass without punitive U.S. action.

'We’re not seeking to escalate. We’re not seeking to reset. We’re seeking stability and predictability,' said an senior administration official. 

Navalny fell ill on a flight in Siberia in August and was airlifted to Germany, where doctors concluded he had been poisoned with a nerve agent. The Kremlin has denied any role in his illness and said it had seen no proof he was poisoned.

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny attends a hearing to consider an appeal against an earlier court decision to change his suspended sentence to a real prison term, in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2021

President Joe Biden's administration is imposing sanctions on senior Russian officials in response to the poisoning of Navalny using a chemical agent

Sources said Monday that the U.S. was expected to act under two executive orders: 13661, which was issued after Russia's invasion of Crimea but provides broad authority to target Russian officials, and 13382, issued in 2005 to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Both orders let the United States freeze the U.S. assets of those targeted and effectively bar U.S. companies and individuals from dealing with them.

The sources said the Biden administration also planned to act under the U.S. Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, which provides a menu of punitive measures.

The sources said some individuals would be targeted in the sanctions to be announced as early as Tuesday, but declined to name them or say what other sanctions may be imposed.

They added, however, that Washington would maintain waivers allowing foreign aid and certain export licenses for Russia.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the possibility of sanctions.

A third source said the U.S. action may be coordinated with sanctions the European Union could apply as soon as Tuesday.

EU foreign ministers agreed on Feb. 22 to impose sanctions on four senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin in a mainly symbolic response to Navalny's jailing. The EU was expected to formally approve those in early March.

In the case of Navalny, Trump, whose term ended in January, did nothing to punish Russia. Top U.N. human rights experts said on Monday that Moscow was to blame for attempting to kill Navalny as part of a pattern of attacks on critics to quash dissent.

After his medical treatment in Germany, Navalny, 44, returned to Russia in January. He was arrested and later sentenced to more than 2-1/2 years in jail for parole violations he said were trumped up.

Biden last month called the jailing of Navalny "politically motivated" and called for his release. He has pledged a new and tough approach toward Moscow, saying the United States would no longer be "rolling over" in the face of aggressive action by Russia.

Washington and Moscow disagree on a wide range of issues on top of Navalny, such as Russia's military ambitions in Ukraine and Georgia, as well as a cyberattack on U.S. government agencies last year that Washington blames on Russia. Moscow has denied responsibility for the hacking campaign.

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