Mladen Antonov / AFP through Getty Images
European Union (EU) is cracking down on six senior Russian officials with sanctions over alleged assassination attempt on Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, citing banned use chemical weapons. Laboratory tests revealed that Navalny was poisoned by a variant of Novichok, a rare Soviet-era nerve agent.
“The use of chemical weapons is a serious violation of international law,” the European Council said on Thursday as it announced sanctions in Official Journal of the EU. The council had previously condemned the poisoning of Navalny, who spent weeks receiving treatment in Germany following an emergency evacuation from Russia in late August.
EU sanctions punish two men working directly in President Vladimir Putin’s executive office, along with his envoy to Siberia, where Navalny became seriously ill. Sanctions also cite Alexander Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service, along with deputies from the defense ministry who direct Russia’s military and weapons searches.
A state entity in Moscow is also on the sanctions list. The EU says it included the State Research Institute for Chemistry and Organic Technology, or GosNIIOKhT, because it is responsible for “destroying stockpiles of chemical weapons inherited from the Soviet Union”.
Sanctions place all six men under a travel ban barring them from visiting the EU. They also freeze any assets that men or the research agency may have under EU jurisdiction.
“In these circumstances, it is reasonable to conclude that the poisoning of Alexei Navalny was possible only with the consent of the Presidential Executive Office,” the EU said.
Navalny, a frequent critic of Putin and his inner circle, recently said he blamed Putin for the poisoning.
“I claim that Putin was behind the crime and I have no other explanation for what happened. I am not saying this out of flattery, but based on facts. The most important fact is Novichok,” Navalny told Der Spiegel..
The EU also called up the chemical weapons convention last year, when it sanctioned the other Russians on the use of a nerve agent against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, in 2018 an attack that Western nations have blamed on Moscow. That incident also involved the use of a Novichok nerve agent.
A German military laboratory decided in early September that the rare toxin had been used against Navalny. Since then, other laboratories in France and Sweden have confirmed the findings.
Navalny “is the victim of a crime aimed at silencing him,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the lab results were released.
The Russian government has denied any role in Navalny poisoning, as it previously denied being involved in the Salisbury poisonings.
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