We had previously heard rumors that something like this was in the works or at least being “considered” by the Biden administration. Now it appears to be official. During a conference call with reporters this morning, one White House spokesperson told the press corps that the Biden administration will be imposing new sanctions on a number of Russian officials and more than one dozen Russian companies in response to the attempted assassination of noted Putin critic and opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his subsequent imprisonment. This is a rather bold move on the part of the Biden administration and it obviously won’t sit well with Vladimir Putin. Precisely how bold it is won’t be known until a full list of sanction targets is released. (NY Post)
The Biden administration will slap sanctions on Russian officials and businesses on Tuesday after the US intelligence community concluded that opposition leader Alexei Navalny had been nearly killed by a nerve-agent poisoning attack carried out by a Russian spy agency.
The sanctions will be imposed under the US Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act for 14 businesses.
Administration officials did not identify the Russian officials who would be targeted by the sanctions – the first against Moscow by President Biden.
As I’ve done in the past, allow me to first just say that I do make an effort to encourage the President when he does the right thing and this is one of those cases. Our relationship with Russia is tenuous on the best of days and the Russians still wield a lot of power and influence across various spheres of military and economic might. And Biden is doing this in a smart way by acting in unison with a coalition of European Union nations that simultaneously announced similar sanctions. The move makes a bold statement against Putin’s execrable authoritarian regime and strengthens our ties with our allies.
As to whether or not the White House is worried about angering the Russians, the official statement that was released presents a strong but balanced policy position. The spokesperson said that the United States is “neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate.” He went on to describe how Russia’s recent behavior regarding Navalny “crosses boundaries that are respected by responsible nations.”
This is a firm response without making the White House look hysterical and reactionary. The whole thing was executed pretty well. The remaining question involves the targets of the sanctions as I mentioned above. Our intelligence assets have almost certainly identified at least some of the members of either the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) or the Foreign Intelligence Service (SWR) that were directly involved in the poisoning, so officials from either group may be hit in the pocketbook. The attempted assassination also could have involved the GRU, so some of them might be in the crosshairs.
But the big question is whether or not we’re going to try to hit Putin personally with sanctions. It really doesn’t matter whether the attack was carried out by the FSB, the SWR, the GRU, or even the KGB. None of them would have dared to unleash an attack using the Novichok nerve agent on such a high-profile public figure as Navalny without Putin personally signing off on the hit. If that does turn out to be the case, Biden will at least be sending an even more powerful message. Of course, Putin probably will shrug his shoulders and tell us to stop “meddling” in his country’s internal affairs again. He’s also unlikely to be worried about the cost of any sanctions since he’s reportedly already worth a trillion dollars. But at least everyone will have to put their cards on the table.
Meanwhile, Navalny remains behind bars. I somehow doubt these actions will change that fact, but it may inspire more Russian citizens to support Navalny’s cause and push back on corruption in their government.