By CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — The White House will announce President Joe Biden’s first sanctions against Russia on Tuesday over the Russian government’s poisoning and detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a State Department official confirmed to ABC News.
The official declined to provide details on the scope of the sanctions, but they are being taken in concert with the European Union. Representatives from the bloc’s 27 members reportedly voted Monday to implement the first sanctions under its new human rights sanction program, targeting four Russian officials for Navalny’s imprisonment.
Navalny, the leading opposition figure to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been moved to a remote penal colony to serve his two-and-a-half-year sentence, a public commission confirmed Sunday. He was arrested for a probation violation after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was treated after being poisoned with a chemical weapon.
Last August, Navalny became sick on a flight in Siberia and was airlifted to Germany, where doctors concluded he was poisoned with Novichok, the military-grade nerve agent. The Kremlin has denied any role and cast doubt on whether Navalny was poisoned.
But the U.S. and several other countries have blamed Putin’s government for that attack, and Tuesday’s U.S. sanctions will target Russian officials for the use of a chemical weapon in violation of international law, as well as Navalny’s detention on charges considered trumped up, the State Department official said.
In a report issued Monday, two United Nations’ special rapporteurs also blamed the Russian government — saying it attempted to kill Navalny and calling it part of an “apparent pattern of attempted targeted killings” to silence critics.
Former President Donald Trump never took action to penalize Russia, at times even casting doubt on the conclusion that Navalny had been poisoned.
“It’s tragic. It’s terrible. It shouldn’t happen. We haven’t had any proof yet, but I will take a look,” he said in September.
Biden has said he will bring a tougher approach to Putin and end Trump’s “rolling over” as the Russian president pursues repressive policies at home and aggressive campaigns overseas, from Ukraine to Venezuela to the U.S.
Upon taking office, Biden ordered the U.S. intelligence community to issue an assessment on Navalny’s poisoning, along with the SolarWinds hack, the alleged bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and Russian interference in the 2020 election. While those reviews continue — likely weeks, not days away — the administration is still trying to move quickly on Navalny’s case with these penalties.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. have called for action since Navalny was arrested upon his return to Russia — a move by Russian security forces that brought tens of thousands into the streets across the country in some of the largest demonstrations against the Kremlin in years.
In a letter last month, the Democratic chair and Republican ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged Biden to implement sanctions for the use of a chemical weapon as required by U.S. law.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price declined to comment on any sanctions earlier on Monday, but told reporters the administration was coordinating “very closely” with U.S. allies in Europe: “Nothing we do would take the EU by surprise and vice versa.”
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