Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Picture: REUTERS/SHAMIL ZHUMATOV
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Picture: REUTERS/SHAMIL ZHUMATOV

Brussels — The EU blacklisted six people in Russia allied to President Vladimir Putin as punishment for the attempted murder of opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

The targets of the EU asset freezes and travel bans imposed on Thursday include Aleksandr Bortnikov, leader of Russia’s domestic spy agency; Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of staff in the presidential administration; and Andrei Yarin, head of the presidential administration’s domestic policy directorate.

The 27-nation bloc also froze the assets of one Russian entity: the State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology.

Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, condemned the EU move as a “deliberately unfriendly step” that will harm its ties with Russia. Peskov spoke on a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

The penalties come nine days after the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed that a military-grade Novichok nerve agent was used to poison Navalny in Russia on August 20. He was then flown to Germany for treatment.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that the government in Moscow would retaliate against the EU with reciprocal sanctions. In his remarks on Thursday, Peskov declined to comment on the likely Russian reaction.

Ongoing conflicts

The Navalny case marks the latest in a series of EU-Russia disputes including the 2014 annexation by Moscow of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, the 2018 poisoning of a former Russian double agent on UK soil and an August 9 disputed Belarusian presidential election.

Six years ago, as part of a larger package of sanctions imposed over Russian meddling in Ukraine, the EU blacklisted oligarchs close to the Kremlin.

Thursday’s penalties are based on a German-French plan and were published in the bloc’s Official Journal after a fast-track approval procedure.

The other three blacklisted Russians are Aleksei Krivoruchko and Pavel Popov, two deputy ministers of defence, and Sergei Menyaylo, Putin’s envoy to the Siberian Federal District.

The EU penalties are “surprisingly escalatory”, Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat who is now a Moscow-based foreign-policy analyst, said in a text message. Frolov said Russia-EU ties are now more or less “dead”.

The Russian government says it has no evidence that Navalny was poisoned and officials have called the case a set-up by western security services.

In a separate decision on Thursday tied to alleged violations of a UN arms embargo on Libya, the EU blacklisted Yevgeny Prigozhin, a powerful Russian businessman with close ties to Putin.

Bloomberg

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