It was among a series of steps the new administration announced Tuesday in its first significant move against Moscow since Joe Biden became President. Senior administration officials stressed that the action was being taken in coordination with allies like the European Union, which also unveiled sanctions on Tuesday.
One senior administration official referred to the August 2020 poisoning of Navalny as an attempted assassination. Another revealed that the intelligence community had assessed with high confidence that Russia’s security service, the FSB, had poisoned the opposition leader with the nerve agent Novichok.
In response to these actions, senior administration officials told reporters on a call Tuesday that the Treasury Department is sanctioning seven senior members of the Russian government. The State Department is “mirroring” previous EU and UK sanctions and expanding sanctions under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act (CBW Act) that had first been imposed over Russia’s poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom, one official said.
The Commerce Department will add 14 parties to the entities list for their engagement “in activities that are contrary to US national security and foreign policy interests,” another official said. “Specifically, these parties are all involved in various aspects of biological agents production and chemical production.”
“It’s clear … that the Russian officials have targeted Mr. Navalny for his activism and efforts to reveal uncomfortable truths about Russian officials’ corruption and give voice to Russian citizens’ legitimate grievances with their government and its policies,” one of the officials said. “We’re exercising our authorities to send a clear signal that Russia’s use of chemical weapons and violation of its international human rights commitments have severe consequences.”
“We retain the ability to go further, and, you know, depending on on our assessment of Russian behavior going forward, we will exercise further options as we need to,” another official said.
The administration officials did not name the targets of their sanctions on the call, but one official said the list “will include some of those mentioned by Navalny supporters.” Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) said in late January it had submitted a list of 35 people in a letter addressed to Biden, with eight individuals named as priorities for sanctions. Those names included Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko.
Officials stressed that the US sanctions over the Navalny poisoning are just the first in a series of responses to Russian actions, with “more to come” on several fronts, including the SolarWinds cyber attack.
Senior administration officials made clear in the call with reporters that their approach to Russia would be a break from that of former President Donald Trump, who was criticized for being too soft on Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The tone and substance of our conversations with Russia and our conversations about Russia will be very different from what you saw in the previous administration,” one of the officials said.
That senior administration official said that the US is neither seeking to “reset” nor escalate its relationship with Russia. Instead, the Biden administration’s goal is to have a “predictable and stable” relationship.
Beyond Navalny’s poisoning, the Biden administration is engaged in a broad review of Russian misdeeds ranging from the massive SolarWinds breach to alleged bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan to interference in America’s elections.
“We are looking at all of this, and I can tell you with some confidence that we will take the appropriate actions as we see fit to make very clear that this kind of conduct is unacceptable for us, and we’ll do it with our allies and partners,” Secretary of State Tony Blinken said in an interview with former Secretary Hillary Clinton that aired Tuesday.
The officials on the call also repeatedly emphasized that their Navalny response was coordinated with allies — a detail that they said represented another change from the often unilateral actions taken by the Trump administration.
On Tuesday, the EU imposed sanctions on four Russian nationals connected to Navalny’s poisoning.
CNN’s Nicole Gaouette, Jeremy Diamond, Zahra Ullah, Matthew Chance, Anna Chernova and James Frater contributed to this report.