The European Union and the United Kingdom announced the imposition of sanctions against several Russian officials Thursday, citing their use of chemical weapons against Alexei Navalny, a prominent critic of the Kremlin.
Included in the sanctions are two people who work directly for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The EU said that “it is reasonable to conclude that the poisoning of Alexei Navalny was only possible with the consent of the Presidential Executive Office.” Further, the EU included Putin’s representative in Serbia, where the poisoning took place. Additionally, the EU identified and sanctioned Russia’s State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology, since “[t]he deployment of a toxic nerve agent of the Novichok group would therefore only be possible due to the failure of the Institute to carry out its responsibility to destroy the stockpiles of chemical weapons.”
The UK took similar actions, implementing a travel ban and freezing the assets of the same six individuals and the State Scientific Research Institute. The UK’s foreign office announced their reasoning for the sanctions in a press release, saying:
The UK and its partners have agreed that there is no plausible explanation for Mr Navalny’s poisoning, other than Russian involvement and responsibility. Russia must hold a full and transparent investigation into the poisoning of one of its citizens on its soil with a banned chemical weapon. Russia must also declare its Novichok programme to the OPCW.
The travel bans prevent any of the six men listed in the sanctions from visiting the EU and UK. The asset freezes affect all assets that the individuals or the Research Institute hold within the EU and UK jurisdictions.
Alexei Navalny told German magazine Der Speigel that he believes that Putin is behind the poisoning. Navalny claimed the use of the chemical agent Novichok was key. He said, “the order to use or produce it can only come from two men – the head of the FSB or the head of SWR, the foreign intelligence service,” adding that “[the two men] cannot make a decision like that without being instructed by Putin. They report to him.”
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov promised Russia will respond in kind, asserting that there is no logic behind the decision to impose sanctions. Putin also refuted claims of wrongdoing, even insisting that Navalny may have poisoned himself.