The Biden administration sanctioned seven mid- and senior-level Russian officials on Tuesday, along with more than a dozen businesses and other entities, over a nearly fatal nerve-agent attack on opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his subsequent jailing.
The measures, emphasizing the use of the Russian nerve agent as a banned chemical weapon, marked the Biden administration’s first sanctions against associates of President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian leader was an intimate and favorite of President Donald Trump even amid covert Russian hacking and social media campaigns aimed at destabilizing the US.
The government officials included at least four whom Navalny’s supporters had directly asked the West to penalize, saying they were most involved in targeting him and other dissidents and journalists. However, the US list did not include any of Russia’s most powerful businesspeople and bankers, oligarchs whom Navalny has long said the West would have to sanction to get the attention of Putin.
Tuesday’s step “was not meant to be a silver bullet or an end date to what has been a difficult relationship with Russia,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “We expect the relationship to continue to be a challenge. We’re prepared for that.”
The Biden administration also announced sanctions under the U.S. Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act for businesses and other enterprises, most of which it said were involved in the production of biological and chemical agents.
The US intelligence community concluded with high confidence that Russia’s Federal Security Service used the Russian nerve agent Novichok on Navalny last August, a senior administration official said.
Russia critic Bill Browder, a London-based investor, tweeted that he feared the new US anctions would be “way too little and not touch Putin’s billionaire cronies.”
Rep Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and chair of the House Intelligence Committee, called the US move overdue.
Working with US allies, “we must use an array of tools, including sanctions, to meaningfully deter, repel, and punish Moscow’s transgressions,” Schiff said in a statement.