‘Accessible only to State authorities’ Here’s how the EU explained its decision to sanction high-level Russian officials over Navalny’s poisoning
On Thursday, October 15, the European Union imposed sanctions against six senior Russian officials and one scientific research institute in response to the use of a Novichok-type nerve agent to poison opposition figure Alexey Navalny. The new sanctions were announced in the latest volume of the Official Journal of the European Union. The United Kingdom, which is not an EU member state, opted to impose similar sanctions, as well. Here’s what you need to know about who’s on sanctions list and how the EU made this decision.
Who’s on the sanctions list?
- Alexander Bortnikov, director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB)
- Andrey Yarin, the head of the Presidential Executive Office’s domestic policy department
- Sergey Kiriyenko, first deputy head of the Presidential Executive Office
- Alexey Krivoruchko, Defense Ministry deputy head
- Pavel Popov, Defense Ministry deputy head
- Sergey Menyaylo, presidential plenipotentiary envoy to the Siberian Federal District
- The State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology (GosNIIOKhT), which is believed to have developed Novichok-type nerve agents at one of its branches during the Soviet period
The officials added to the sanctions list are banned from entering the European Union and the United Kingdom, and their assets held in EU member states and the UK will be frozen.
The EU’s explanation
The Official Journal of the European Union says that Alexey Navalny’s poisoning “was only possible with the consent of the Presidential Executive Office” and with the involvement of the Russian FSB. EU officials point to a variety of circumstances that allowed them to come to this conclusion:
- According to the EU, there is a dedicated task force inside the Presidential Executive Office working “to counter Alexey Navalny’s influence in Russian society including through operations meant to discredit him” (the Kremlin denies the existence of such a group)
- State and judicial actors in Russia have persecuted and repressed Navalny systematically due to his political activities
- FSB officers were monitoring Navalny during his trip to Siberia, including at the time of his poisoning
- The Novichok-type nerve agent used to poison Navalny is “accessible only to State authorities in the Russian Federation”
The European Union also offered detailed explanations as to why it imposed sanctions in the case of each individual specifically, underscoring that poisoning someone with a Novichok-type nerve agent “constitutes a use of chemical weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
According to the EU, the head of the Presidential Executive Office’s domestic policy department was appointed to an internal task force working to “counter Alexey Navalny’s influence in Russian society” and discredit him. “Given his senior leadership role in [the Presidential Executive] Office, Andrey Yarin is therefore responsible for inducing and providing support to the persons who carried out or were involved in the poisoning of Alexey Navalny with the Novichok nerve agent,” the EU says.
The EU uses the same wording to explain why Sergey Kiriyenko was included on the sanctions list. EU officials believe that the first deputy head of the Presidential Executive Office “induced and provided support” to the people behind Navalny’s poisoning. In addition, they underscore that he is responsible for domestic affairs, including political groups and activities.
EU officials believe that Sergey Menyaylo is also responsible for “inducing and providing support” to those involved in Navalny’s poisoning, because he holds a senior leadership role in the Presidential Executive Office in the Siberian Federal District, which is where Navalny was poisoned. The EU also highlights the fact that Menyaylo is a non-permanent member of Russia’s Security Council.
The EU states that the FSB “closely monitored” Alexey Navalny during his trip to Siberia, including at the time of the attempt on his life. As such, EU representatives maintain that “it is reasonable to conclude” that Navalny’s poisoning was “only possible with the involvement of the Federal Security Service.” According to the EU, Alexander Bortnikov is responsible for “providing support” to those who poisoned Navalny or were involved in the attack.
Underscoring that the Russian Defense Ministry is responsible for the safe storage and destruction of chemical weapons stocks inherited from the USSR, the EU points out that chemical weapons could only be used on Russia’s territory “as a result of intent or negligence by the Ministry of Defense or its political leadership.” According to the EU, Deputy Defense Minister Pavel Popov “is therefore responsible for assisting the persons who carried out or were involved in the poisoning of Alexey Navalny.” In addition, the text notes that in his role, Popov is responsible for research activities, including the development and modernization of existing weapons and military equipment.
The same wording used to justify Pavel Popov’s inclusion on the sanctions list is applied to another deputy defense minister, Alexey Krivoruchko. The EU holds him “responsible for assisting” the people behind Navalny’s poisoning, noting that in his role, Krivoruchko is responsible for the elimination of weapons within the framework of implementing international treaties (officially, Russia has destroyed all of its chemical weapons stocks).
EU officials also included a scientific research institute on the sanctions list, because it was working on developing chemical weapons up until 1994, including, according to the EU, developing poisonous substances from the Novichok group. After 1994, the institute was responsible for destroying chemical weapons within the framework of government programs. The EU believes that the use of a Novichok-type nerve agent against Navalny is indicative of the fact that the institute failed to fulfill its obligations to destroy chemical weapons stockpiles.
There is no publicly available documentary evidence to the fact that Novichok-type nerve agents were developed at GosNIIOKhT. However, scientists Vladimir Uglev and Leonid Rink, who worked at the institute’s Volsk branch in the city of Shikhany (Saratov Region), have spoken out as the developers behind this class of substances. Russia’s federal target program for “The Destruction of Chemical Weapons” lists GosNIIOKhT’s Volsk branch (specifically, buildings 21–26) as the only facility in the country responsible for creating chemical weapons. The buildings where these development programs were carried out were demolished in accordance with the federal target program in 2018.
On August 27, the United States included GosNIIOKhT on its sanctions list, describing it as an organization associated with a Russian chemical weapons testing program.
Commenting on the sanctions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the European Union had made a “deliberately unfriendly gesture towards Russia,” hurting bilateral relations. According to Peskov, there’s “absolutely no clear logic” behind the EU’s decision.
“The decision to make relations between the European Union and Moscow dependent on a person, who in Europe is considered the leader of some opposition, of course, causes nothing but regret,” Peskov said.
The Kremlin spokesman added that Moscow will respond to the sanctions in a way that “will best suit the interests of the Russian Federation.” Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia would prepare a “mirrored” response to the sanctions from the EU.
With the help of Tatyana Lysova
Translation by Eilish Hart