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Biden prepares first major sanctions against Russia

“Suffice it to say,” the official added, “we will not stand idly by in the face of these human rights violations.”

The poisoning of Navalny by Russian security forces last August and his recent incarceration in Moscow were deemed urgent enough to warrant a response, even though the broader review of US-Russian policy – launched by the administration in January – is still ongoing, said sources familiar with internal talks.

Several Russian experts have said the United States shouldn’t wait to respond, especially after a Russian court cleared the way last week for Navalny’s transfer to a penal colony.

“They are right to do this broader review, but on Navalny they should act sooner,” said Daniel Fried, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the State Department from 2005. to 2009.

“I don’t think we can stop [Russian President] Putin to send Navalny to a penal colony, ”Fried said. “But by acting quickly now, at least it’s in Putin’s calculation that the United States is ready to act.”

Navalny, 44, was poisoned last August with the nerve agent Novichok, a deadly substance considered a chemical weapon banned by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The Kremlin has denied any involvement, but the State Department publicly attributed the attack to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in December. After months of treatment in Germany, Navalny recovered and flew to Moscow, where he was quickly arrested for violating the terms of a probation agreement. He was sentenced to nearly three years in prison earlier this month, sparking massive protests across Russia and condemnation from the international community.

This is not the first time that Russian security forces have attempted to assassinate Putin’s enemies using Novichok. Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer who served as a double agent for the British, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, were poisoned with the substance in March 2018 in England. In December, Navalny tricked an FSB agent into detailing the plot against him, which was to plant Novichok in the opposition leader’s underwear.

While the new National Security Council’s broader review of Russia is not yet complete, the Biden administration is not starting from scratch on the Navalny issue – it has inherited a comprehensive sanctions package from the previous administration, which was handed over during the transition process, two of the people familiar with the transition said.

The package proposed three types of sanctions: the sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky Law on those detaining Navalny; sanctions under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and the Elimination of War Act 1991 (CBW Act); and sanctions under Executive Order 13382 – which “seeks to freeze the assets of weapons of mass destruction proliferators and their supporters,” according to the State Department. The Trump sanctions package also proposed revoking the visas of some Russian officials and restricting the export of certain dual-use items to Russia that could be used to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.

It’s unclear why the sanctions proposal, which former officials said was ready to pass in early January, stopped at the end of Trump’s tenure. But the former president was notoriously reluctant to penalize the Kremlin or directly confront Vladimir Putin, and the sanctions package would have required his approval.

Whichever way the new administration chooses to respond, it is unlikely to use the exact plan left by Trump’s national security team. The current National Security Council views the package as too one-sided and inconsistent with Biden’s commitment to work more closely with U.S. partners on key foreign policy measures, two officials said.

Yet the United States lags its allies on this issue. In response to the Navalny poisoning last year, the European Union sanctioned six Russians and one state science institute in October, and this week announced plans to sanction four additional senior Russian officials for Navalny’s treatment .

Ryan Tully, who served as the NSC’s senior director of European and Russian affairs for the last six months of the Trump administration, said US sanctions would be a key next step – while working to end North Stream 2, an export pipeline in operation. from Russia to Europe across the Baltic Sea that Biden has so far resisted the imposition of additional sanctions. Germany in particular is bullish on Nord Stream 2, complicating multilateral action, especially as the US attempts to mend relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel following strained relations at the time. Trump.

“Sanctioning Russia using CBW Law, Magnitsky Law and / or OE 13382 for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny is an important step in strengthening the global standard against the use of chemical weapons” , Tully said. “In the end, however, these tools will not change Putin’s calculation or behavior. Putting a stake at the heart of Nord Stream 2 could, and would drain, billions of dollars from Putin’s coffers.

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