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25th Sep 2021

EU shames Kremlin on Navalny chemical crime

  • Russian spy chief Alexander Bortnikov (r) with Russian president Vladimir Putin (Photo: Kremlin.ru)

EU countries have blacklisted six Russians and one entity over a chemical weapon attack - the poisoning of Alexei Navalny - as Moscow prepares to strike back.

EU ambassadors sealed the decision in Brussels on Wednesday (14 October), diplomats told EUobserver.

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It enters into force on Thursday morning, when the names are to be published in the bloc's legal gazette, the Official Journal, and when asset-freezes and visa-bans snap into place.

The six men accused of plotting to kill Russian opposition figure Navalny with a prohibited nerve toxin last month will include Russian spy chief Alexander Bortnikov, two Kremlin aides, two deputy defence ministers, and a Kremlin envoy to Siberia, The New York Times reported.

The pariah entity will be the Russian State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology in Moscow, the US newspaper added.

If confirmed, that would see the EU strike higher up the chain of command than it did in previous chemical weapons cases.

The last time, in July, the EU blacklisted four Russian military intelligence officers for trying to hack the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.

Prior to that, EU states expelled mid-level Russian diplomats over a nerve poison attack in the UK.

And, if confirmed, the Bortnikov and Kremlin-aide listings would underline EU accusations that the attempted assassination of Navalny was ordered at the highest levels.

But they would, in any case, have a more political than operational value, as Bortnikov, the big fish, has already been under EU sanctions since 2014 over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

It would be "more symbolic, to show the EU holds him [Bortnikov] responsible for Navalny as well," an EU diplomat said.

"Nobody raised any objections" to the new listings on Wednesday, another EU diplomat said.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, the same day, promised to strike back.

"We will respond proportionately. Yes, it is the established diplomatic practice. The response will be diplomatic," he said on Russian radio.

The EU was acting out of "susceptibility to Russophobic tendencies, which the Americans seek to impose in Europe, in order to discourage Europe from Russian gas, Russian military products", Lavrov said.

Russia wanted a "constructive dialogue based on mutual respect" with Europe, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said on Wednesday.

"But, you know ... one can't tango alone," he added.

The tone was milder than one day earlier, when Russia had threatened to freeze diplomatic contacts with top EU officials.

"We probably simply have to temporarily stop talking to those people in the West who are responsible for foreign policy and don't understand the need for mutually respectful dialogue," Lavrov had told a congress in Moscow on Tuesday.

"Russia wants to understand whether it's possible to do any business with the EU in the current conditions," he also said.

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