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US concludes Russia poisoned Navalny and joins EU in imposing sanctions

This is Biden’s first major actiona gainst Russia during his presidency.

THE US HAS imposed sanctions on senior Russian officials in a coordinated action with the European Union as US intelligence concluded that Moscow orchestrated the near-fatal poisoning of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

In his first major action against Russia since taking office, President Joe Biden’s administration said it was freezing any US assets and criminalising transactions with seven senior Russians including the director of the FSB security service.

US intelligence assessed “with high confidence” that officers of the FSB, successor to the KGB, poisoned Navalny with the nerve agent Novichok on August 20, 2020, a US official told reporters.

Navalny was flown to Germany for treatment but defiantly returned in January, only to be arrested and then sent to a penal colony after spurring massive rallies through his allegations of corruption by Putin.

“The US government has exercised its authorities to send a clear signal that Russia’s use of chemical weapons and abuse of human rights have severe consequences,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

“We reiterate our call for the Russian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr Navalny,” he said.

The announcement comes one day after EU member states approved a fresh round of sanctions over the treatment of Navalny. The bloc had already in October targeted the FSB chief, Alexander Bortnikov, among others on the US list.

Officials newly targeted by both the United States and European Union included Alexander Kalashnikov, the administrator of Russia’s prisons.

The US Commerce Department said it was also blacklisting 14 companies or entities for export controls out of fear they could help Russia develop chemical weapons.

The Kremlin has denied responsibility over Navalny’s ill health and on Tuesday asked Western powers what they would achieve through sanctions.

“The answer will be obvious: such a policy does not achieve its goals,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking with his Uzbek counterpart, warned of reprisals, saying that one rule of diplomacy “is the principle of reciprocity.”

Navalny was sent to a penal colony east of the Russian capital after a judge ruled that, in going to Germany, he violated the terms of parole in a suspended sentence over a 2014 fraud case, which critics say was trumped up.

Navalny has persisted in needling Putin, releasing a viral video that purported to show a palatial Black Sea residence belonging to the president, who was forced to deny publicly that it was his.

The dissident has also mockingly said that the veteran Russian leader “will go down in history as a poisoner of underpants” — where agents allegedly placed the Novichok

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