Mladen Antonov, Tiziana Fabi / AFP via Getty Images
The European Union is targeting six high-ranking Russian officials with sanctions for suspected attempted murder of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, citing the use of banned chemical weapons. Laboratory tests found that Navalny was poisoned by a variant of Novichok, a rare Soviet-era nerve agent.
“The use of chemical weapons constitutes a serious violation of international law,” the European Council said Thursday in the publication of the sanctions in the Official Journal of the EU. The council had already condemned the poisoning of Navalny, who spent weeks receiving treatment in Germany after an emergency evacuation from Russia in late August.
EU sanctions punish two men who work directly for President Vladimir Putin’s executive office along with his representative in Siberia, where Navalny became seriously ill. The sanctions also name Aleksander Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service, along with deputies from the Defense Ministry who manage Russia’s military research and weapons.
A state entity in Moscow is also on the sanctions list. The EU has said it includes the State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology, because it is responsible for “destroying stocks of chemical weapons inherited from the Soviet Union”.
The sanctions impose a travel ban on all six men that prevents them from visiting the EU. They also freeze any assets that the men or the research agency might have under EU jurisdiction.
“Under these circumstances, it is reasonable to conclude that the poisoning of Alexei Navalny was only possible with the consent of the Presidential Executive Bureau,” the EU said.
Navalny, a frequent critic of Putin and his inner circle, recently said he blamed the Russian leader for the poisoning.
“I claim that Putin was behind the crime, and I have no other explanation for what happened. I’m not saying this out of self-adulation, but based on facts. The most important fact is Novichok,” Navalny said. Der Spiegel.
The EU also invoked the Chemical Weapons Convention last year when it sanctioned other Russians for using a nerve agent against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England in 2018 – an attack that Western nations have attributed to Moscow. That incident also included the use of a Novichok nerve agent.
A German military laboratory established in early September that the rare toxin was used against Navalny. Since then, other laboratories in France and Sweden have confirmed the results.
Navalny “is the victim of a crime that was intended to silence him,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the lab’s findings were published.
The Russian government has denied any role in the Navalny poisoning, as it had previously denied being involved in the Salisbury poisonings.