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23rd Jan 2021

EU imposes mini-sanctions on Russia chemical attack

  • Segments of Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 on a freight train (Photo: nord-stream2.com)

EU countries are to impose modest sanctions on Russia for its second use of a prohibited chemical weapon in Europe.

The visa-bans and asset-freezes will target "individuals that we consider to be responsible for this violation of international law," German foreign minister Heiko Maas said after EU talks in Luxembourg on Monday (12 October), referring to the recent poisoning of Russian opposition hero Alexei Navalny.

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  • Victim Alexei Navalny called for sanctions on pro-Kremlin billionaires (Photo: Person Behind the Scenes)

The listing will enter into force in the next few days under special EU measures on chemical weapons abuse.

It is set to name four individuals and one entity, but details could still change, diplomatic sources said.

Navalny was attacked with novichok, the same toxin used in the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the UK two years ago.

Back then, EU states expelled some 40 Russian diplomats in response.

This time, Poland and others had called for Germany to stop building a Russia gas pipeline, called Nord Stream 2, in order to show a red line had been crossed.

But Maas previously said the cost to German firms would be more than Berlin was willing to pay.

Navalny had called for EU sanctions on pro-Kremlin Russian billionaires.

"They embezzle money, steal billions, and at the weekend they fly to Berlin or London, buy expensive apartments and sit in cafes," he told German newspaper Bild last week.

But the EU's strict targeting - of "individuals ... responsible" for the novichok attack - indicated a less bullish approach.

The EU was taking action "against one specific and concrete event", the EU's foreign policy head, Josep Borrell, also said in Luxembourg.

And it needed to conduct normal diplomacy with Russia in other areas, Borrell added, mentioning conflicts in the South Caucasus, Syria, and Ukraine.

Unhappy event

"The whole world cannot be reduced to this unhappy event of the poisoning of Mr. Navalny," Borrell said.

France and Germany had presented "evidence" about the Navalny case to the other 25 EU states and "no one posed any reluctance" on Tuesday about going ahead, Borrell also said.

Russia denies any wrongdoing.

Its EU embassy in Brussels declined to comment on Monday's political decision before it becomes formalised.

"However, we may reaffirm our position, that sanctions are an instrument of those unable or unwilling to employ diplomatic methods," it told EUobserver.

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