Biden prepares his first big penalties over Russia

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

Navalny’s poisoning by Russian security forces last August and his recent imprisonment in Moscow has been deemed urgent enough to warrant a response, even if the broader review of US-Russian policy launched by the administration in January, it’s still ongoing, people familiar with it said. with internal discussions.

Several Russian experts have said the United States should not wait to respond, especially after a Russian court paved the way last week for Navalny to be transferred to a penal colony.

“They are right to do this more comprehensive review, but Navalny should take action sooner,” said Daniel Fried, who served as undersecretary 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 is in Putin’s calculations that the United States is willing to act.”

Navalny, 44, was poisoned last August with the nerve agent Novichok, a lethal substance considered a banned chemical weapon by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The Kremlin denied its 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 home to Moscow, where he was immediately arrested for violating the terms of a parole agreement. He was sentenced to nearly three years in prison earlier this month, prompting mass protests across Russia and condemnation from the international community.

It is not the first time that Russian security forces have tried 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 involved planting Novichok in the opposition leader’s underwear.

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

The package proposed three types of sanctions: Magnitsky Act sanctions for people who detained Navalny; sanctions under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Elimination of War Act of 1991 (CBW Act); and sanctions under Executive Order 13382, which aims to “freeze the assets of proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their supporters,” according to the State Department. Trump’s sanctions package also proposed revoking the visas of certain Russian officials and restricting the export of certain dual-use items to Russia that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction.

It’s unclear why the sanctions proposal, which former officials said was ready by early January, stalled at the end of Trump’s term. 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.

Regardless of how the new administration decides to respond, it is unlikely to use the exact blueprint left by Trump’s national security team. The current National Security Council considers that package too one-sided and not in line with Biden’s commitment to work more closely with American partners in major foreign policy movements, two officials said.

Still, the United States has lagged behind its allies on this issue. In response to the Navalny poisoning last year, the European Union sanctioned six Russians and a state scientific institute in October, and this week announced its intention to sanction four additional senior Russian officials for Navalny’s treatment.

Ryan Tully, who served as Senior Director of European and Russian Affairs at the NSC in the last six months of the Trump administration, said US sanctions will be a key next step, in addition to working to end Nord Stream 2, a export gas pipeline in operation. from Russia to Europe via the Baltic Sea, where Biden has so far resisted imposing more sanctions. Germany, in particular, is optimistic about Nord Stream 2, complicating multilateral action, especially as the United States tries to mend relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel following strained relations in the Trump era.

“Sanctioning Russia using the CBW Law, the Magnitsky Law and / or EO 13382, for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny is an important step as it reinforces the global norm against the use of chemical weapons,” said Tully. Ultimately, however, these tools will not change Putin’s calculation or behavior. Placing a bet at the heart of Nord Stream 2 could, and would, drain billions from Putin’s coffers. “

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