October 19, 2020 | Policy Brief

New EU Sanctions on Russia a Good First Step, But Further Action Needed

October 19, 2020 | Policy Brief

New EU Sanctions on Russia a Good First Step, But Further Action Needed

The European Union unveiled targeted sanctions on Thursday in response to the August 20 use of a chemical weapon to poison leading Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. The sanctions represent a positive first step in holding the Kremlin accountable, but the message may not be strong enough to elicit a change in Russian behavior.

Brussels imposed asset freezes and travel bans on six senior Russian officials and one entity deemed responsible for the attack. Navalny’s would-be assassins used a new variant of  the military-grade nerve agent Novichok, which Brussels noted “is accessible only to” the Russian government. Brussels did not reveal specific evidence demonstrating the six senior officials’ direct involvement, but made the designation based on the authorities they wield.

The European Union designated Aleksander Bortnikov, director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), which has long kept Navalny under constant surveillance – including, as Brussels noted, at the time of the attack – and is believed to have orchestrated the plot. After Navalny was rushed to the hospital, FSB officials quickly swooped in to conceal the source of his ailment and delay his evacuation to Germany.

Asserting that Navalny’s poisoning “was only possible with the consent of the” Presidential Administration, Brussels also designated Sergei Kiriyenko and Andrei Yarin, senior Kremlin officials responsible for managing Russia’s domestic politics. Yarin, who has close ties to the FSB, also serves on a special counter-Navalny task force. Brussels also designated Sergei Menyaylo, the presidential representative charged with ensuring centralized Kremlin control in the Siberian Federal District, where the attack occurred, although it is unlikely he had prior knowledge of the attack.

The European Union and Canada had previously designated both Bortnikov and Menyaylo following Russia’s 2014 aggression against Ukraine. The U.S. Treasury Department has also designated Menyaylo, though not Bortnikov.

Pointing to Russia’s failure to fulfill its legal obligation to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles, Brussels also sanctioned deputy defense ministers Pavel Popov and Aleksei Krivoruchko, who oversee military research and armaments, respectively. The European Union likewise designated the Russian State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, which originally developed Novichok during the Soviet era and was tasked with destroying it. Brussels, however, did not sanction the FSB or the Foreign Intelligence Service, which are believed to control Russia’s remaining covert chemical weapons labs.

The EU deserves plaudits for imposing these sanctions relatively quickly – particularly considering that following Russia’s 2018 Novichok attack in Salisbury, England, the bloc took almost a year to sanction the head and deputy head of the Russian military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) and two GRU agents who executed the attack.

Still, given that those 2018 sanctions evidently failed to deter the use of Novichok against Navalny, the European Union and United States should take additional steps to shift Moscow’s strategic calculus and support the Russian people.

First, Germany should heed the European Parliament’s recent call to cancel Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, which if completed would undermine both European energy security and Ukraine’s economic health and strategic leverage vis-à-vis Russia.

Second, Brussels should accelerate development of its human rights sanctions regime, under which it should re-designate these Russian officials to make clear Europe condemns the attack not only for using chemical weapons but also for violating Navalny’s basic human rights. Brussels should also reverse its reported decision to exclude anti-corruption sanctions from that regime, and should then designate the corrupt Russian officials and oligarchs exposed by Navalny.

Congress, meanwhile, should demand that the Trump administration meet its legal deadline – just three weeks away – to issue a determination regarding Moscow’s culpability for the attack, along with attendant sanctions. Washington should consider designating the same six officials as the EU. At a minimum, President Trump must end his silence on this issue by joining his European counterparts in personally and forcefully condemning the attack, as Navalny himself urged last week.

John Hardie is research manager and Russia research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from John and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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