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EU Slaps Sanctions On Russia Over Navalny 'Assassination' Attempt, Libya Meddling


Aleksandr Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), pictured in 2018

The European Union and Britain have moved quickly to impose asset freezes and travel bans against six senior Russian officials and one entity for the "attempted assassination" of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny with a Soviet-style chemical agent in August.

The EU Official Journal on October 15 published the names of the targeted individuals believed to be responsible for the poisoning that nearly took Navalny’s life, as well as the entity involved in the program that has produced a group of military-grade nerve agents known as Novichok.

The officials include Aleksandr Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), two deputy defense ministers, Aleksei Kirivoruchko and Pavel Popov, Andrei Yarin and Sergei Kiriyenko of the presidential office, as well as Sergei Menyailo, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Siberian Federal District.

The targeted organization is the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, which was responsible for developing the Novichok nerve agents during the Soviet era.

Unlike the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain in 2018, when the EU took almost a year to sanction military intelligence agents, the bloc targeted officials it believes planned and helped carry out the poisoning.

The British government announced shortly afterward that it would apply the EU sanctions, which Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called a “deliberate unfriendly step toward Russia” that will harm relations with Moscow and prompt retaliation.

Separately, the bloc also hit a Kremlin-connected businessman, Yevgeny Prigozhi, known as "Putin’s Chef" because his company has done catering for the Kremlin, over his role in Libya's civil war.

"The European Council...condemned the assassination attempt on Aleksei Navalny. The use of chemical weapons constitutes a serious breach of international law, the journal states.

"In view of the continued threat posed by the proliferation and use of chemical weapons, six persons and one entity should be included in the list of natural and legal persons, entities, and bodies subject to restrictive measures," it added.

Unlike the near-fatal poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Britain in 2018, when the EU took almost a year to sanction military intelligence agents, the bloc moved quickly on the Navalny case.

Paris and Berlin have pushed for EU punitive measures after the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on October 6 confirmed the findings of specialized laboratories in Germany, France, and Sweden that Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent from the Novichok group.

Germany and France accused Russia of failing to fully investigate the circumstances of Navalny’s poisoning and holding anyone to account.

Last year, the EU blacklisted the head of Russia’s military intelligence GRU, Igor Kostyukov, and his deputy Vladimir Alekseyev, along with the two suspected GRU agents accused by Britain of carrying out the near-fatal poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

Novichok was identified by British authorities as the toxin used in the 2018 incident in the English city of Salisbury.

Navalny, a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin and prominent anti-corruption campaigner, has blamed the poisoning on the Russian president. He was released from a Berlin hospital on September 22 after spending 32 days in the clinic.

Russian authorities have firmly denied allegations of involvement, resisted international pressure to launch a criminal investigation, and accused Western leaders of launching a disinformation campaign over Navalny's illness.

According to the EU Official Journal, Prigozhin was also slapped with an asset freeze and travel ban, saying he “is engaged in and providing support for the Wagner Group’s activities in Libya, which threaten the country’s peace, stability, and security.”

The Vagner Group is a Russian military contractor force active in Libya, Syria, and Africa.

The United States had previously sanctioned Prigozhin for his interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.