EU to Sanction Members of Putin’s Interior Circle Over Navalny Poisoning –

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EU to Sanction Members of Putin’s Inner Circle Over Navalny Poisoning

The European Union will impose sanctions on members of President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle in response to the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, it said in its Official Journal Thursday, while another of Mr. Putin’s associates faces sanctions for his role in the Libyan conflict.

The travel ban and asset freeze will take effect immediately, EU officials said.

The move includes six senior Russian officials and one state research center. In addition, Yevgeniy Prigozhin was sanctioned for breaching EU sanctions based on United Nations measures, which ban the supply of arms, instruments of repression and assistance to mercenary forces in Libya.

Mr. Prighozin and Russia’s Internet Research Agency were indicted in 2018 by a U.S. grand jury for allegedly funding and organizing operations to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections. The U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted Mr. Prigozhin in 2019 for his alleged involvement.

Mr. Prighozin has defended the Kremlin’s interests abroad through Wagner, a group of mercenaries that has fought in Ukraine, Syria and Libya, and at home with a different organization that has allegedly threatened and attacked members of the political opposition.

The EU’s decision to sanction him now is linked to his record of intimidation of Mr. Navalny, several diplomats said.

The EU hopes that the sanctions will punish those responsible for Mr. Navalny’s poisoning without sparking a fresh cycle of tensions with Russia. Moscow, however, has said that the move could have serious repercussions for bilateral relations with the EU.

On Tuesday, the day after EU foreign ministers agreed to impose sanctions, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Moscow could freeze its contacts with the bloc in retaliation. On Wednesday, before the identity of the sanctioned individuals emerged, Mr. Lavrov said in an interview with Russian radio stations that Moscow would respond in kind for any sanctions against it.

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“It’s clear that this will have a significant negative impact on the relationship, maybe more than just a symbolic,” said Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a nonprofit think tank in Moscow.

EU member states signed off on the names, proposed by France and Germany last week, in discussions on Wednesday. EU officials have said that while they need to maintain selective engagement with Moscow, the poisoning of such a senior opposition leader using chemical weapons needed a sharp European response.

Most of the officials were added to a sanctions regime set up in 2018 to target people involved in the use of chemical weapons.

Mr. Navalny fell ill in late August while traveling in Russia and was taken to Berlin for treatment a few days later. He was discharged from the hospital in late September. Russia has disputed the findings of European laboratories that Mr. Navalny had been poisoned by the chemical nerve agent Novichok.

The EU already has directed individual and broader economic sanctions against Russian officials for Moscow’s interference in Ukraine. The bloc’s first listings under its chemical weapons sanctions included the Russians accused of poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain.

Those expected to be sanctioned on Thursday include Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of Russia’s Federal Security Service; Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of staff in the presidential administration; and Andrei Yarin, the head of the presidential administration’s domestic policy directorate. Aleksei Krivoruchko and Pavel Popov, two deputy ministers of defense and Sergei Menyailo, Mr. Putin’s envoy to the Siberian Federal District, would also face sanctions, people familiar with the matter said.

“The list is quite impressive if indeed all of these people are there,” Mr. Kortunov said. “Some of them are pretty close to the president.”

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Mr. Prigozhin made his name as the Kremlin’s master of dark arts. He has organized and financed Wagner, the mercenary organization, according to people with knowledge of the group.

Days after Mr. Navalny fell ill on Aug. 20, Mr. Prigozhin publicly announced he had paid off a court fine Mr. Navalny and his associate Lyubov Sobol had been ordered to pay last year. That, he said, would make them personally indebted to him.

“I intend to strip this group of unscrupulous people of their clothes and shoes,” Mr. Prigozhin said in August, according to a statement released by one of his companies.

The Russian officials that have been listed by the EU in retaliation for Mr. Navalny’s poisoning come from some of the country’s most influential circles of power.

Among them, Mr. Bortnikov was singled out by Mr. Navalny in an interview this month in which he said the Federal Security Service director was one of only two people in the country who could have had access to Novichok for the attack. The EU said the poisoning couldn’t have been carried out without the knowledge of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), which had been following Mr. Navalny.

Mr. Krivoruchko worked in Russia’s defense industry before becoming deputy defense minister in 2018. In defense circles he has long been considered close to Sergey Chemezov, head of Russia’s defense conglomerate, Rostec. For four years he successfully ran Russia’s iconic Kalashnikov arms company while under U.S. sanctions, boosting revenue by supplying automatic and semiautomatic weapons to Asian and African customers. The EU said in its Official Journal that he is responsible for weapons stockpiles including chemical weapons.

Mr. Menyailo became the presidential envoy to Russia’s Siberian federal district, where Mr. Navalny fell ill, since 2016. He was sanctioned in 2014 by the U.S. for his role in Russia’s annexation of Crimea, where he became governor of the city of Sevastopol following Moscow’s taking of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula.

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Mr. Menyailo spent his career in the Soviet and Russian Navy, attaining the rank of vice admiral. In 2008, he took part in an operation to deploy Russian soldiers against the Georgian Armed Forces during a five-day war between the two countries.

Mr. Yarin spent much of his political career as a regional functionary. In 2016, he was appointed to head the presidential administration’s directorate on domestic politics. There he was responsible for discrediting Mr. Navalny, according to a Russian media investigation.

The State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology, which is responsible for the destruction of chemical weapons inherited from the Soviet Union, was also sanctioned. The EU said the poisoning could only have been carried out with the institute’s failure to destroy novichok stockpiles.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the sanctions a hostile act and said Moscow was considering how to respond.

“Moscow is analyzing the situation and will act in accordance with its own interests,” Mr. Peskov told journalists in a briefing.

He previously said Moscow had made three requests through Russia’s prosecutor general’s office to Germany for specific information on the findings of their investigators, but received no response. He has insisted that Russian doctors who treated Mr. Navalny immediately after he fell sick saved the opposition leader’s life.

—Ann M. Simmons in Moscow contributed to this article.

Write to Laurence Norman at [email protected] and Thomas Grove at [email protected]

The post EU to Sanction Members of Putin’s Inner Circle Over Navalny Poisoning appeared first on WSJ.

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