The Biden administration will issue new sanctions on Russia and its leadership for poisoning and jailing opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
U.S. intelligence solved the mystery of Navalny’s poisoning last year, saying with a high degree of confidence that it was carried out by Russian FSB agents using a banned nerve agent. The dissident was jailed upon his return to Russia in January.
Donald Trump knew this before he left office. He also knew that the Russian government was responsible for the massive hack of U.S. government computer networks and that the Russian government had placed bounties on the heads of U.S. servicemen. Biden will additionally sanction Russia for those transgressions.
The sanctions represent a massive change in U.S. policy toward Russia and indicate a coming period of increased tension between the two countries.
The new penalties were imposed by the Treasury, State and Commerce departments, and included sanctions on seven senior members of the Russian government, an expansion of sanctions under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act, new export restrictions on items that could be used for biological agent and chemical production, and visa restrictions, the officials said.
If these sanctions seem less than dramatic it’s because they are. We’ve still got economic sanctions and travel restrictions on most of the Russian leadership for their invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014. The only targets left to sanction would hurt Europe as much as they hurt Russia, specifically the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that would connect Russia and Germany, as well as other northern European states. Sanctioning the pipeline would damage the EU economy.
“From his first phone call with President Putin, President Biden has been clear that the United States will respond to a number of destabilizing Russian actions,” a senior administration official said Tuesday in a press call previewing the sanctions rollout. The official said the administration had requested “new or declassified intelligence community assessments in four such areas, and plan to respond to each of them in the coming weeks. Today is the first such response, and there will be more to come.”
Trump didn’t want to sanction Russia because he didn’t believe any real damage could be inflicted and saw them as worse than doing nothing. I suppose we’ll find out now whether or not he was right.
“No country, let alone a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, should engage in or condone such actions,” one of the officials said on Tuesday, noting that Russia’s attempt to poison Navalny “follows an alarming pattern of chemical weapons abuse by Russia.” He pointed to the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer who served as a double agent for the British, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, who were poisoned with Novichok in March 2018 in England.
The poisoning of Skripal could be seen as normal spycraft. Killing a double agent is accepted as part of the rules, although killing him on foreign soil is not. That, and using the banned nerve agent Novichok is enough to justify the sanctions under international law.
Putin has warded off all sanctions imposed on him, his government, and his cronies. Russia doesn’t want to act like a civilized nation so they will suffer the meager consequences we can impose.
It certainly won’t stop or even slow down Putin in his desire to take down the hated United States.