Exclusive: U.S. sanctions for Navalny poisoning may come on Tuesday - sources


FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny attends a hearing to consider an appeal against an earlier court decision to change his suspended sentence to a real prison term, in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is expected to impose sanctions to punish Russia for the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny as early as Tuesday, two sources familiar with the matter said.

President Joe Biden's decision to impose sanctions for Navalny's poisoning reflects a harder stance than taken by his predecessor, Donald Trump, who let the incident last August pass without punitive U.S. action.

Navalny fell ill on a flight in Siberia in August and was airlifted to Germany, where doctors concluded he had been poisoned with a nerve agent. The Kremlin has denied any role in his illness and said it had seen no proof he was poisoned.

The sources said on Monday on condition of anonymity that the United States was expected to act under two executive orders: 13661, which was issued after Russia's invasion of Crimea but provides broad authority to target Russian officials, and 13382, issued in 2005 to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Both orders let the United States freeze the U.S. assets of those targeted and effectively bar U.S. companies and individuals from dealing with them.

The sources said the Biden administration also planned to act under the U.S. Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, which provides a menu of punitive measures.

The sources said some individuals would be targeted in the sanctions to be announced as early as Tuesday, but declined to name them or say what other sanctions may be imposed.

They added, however, that Washington would maintain waivers allowing foreign aid and certain export licenses for Russia.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the possibility of sanctions.

A third source said the U.S. action may be coordinated with sanctions the European Union could apply as soon as Tuesday.

EU foreign ministers agreed on Feb. 22 to impose sanctions on four senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin in a mainly symbolic response to Navalny's jailing. The EU was expected to formally approve those in early March.

In the case of Navalny, Trump, whose term ended in January, did nothing to punish Russia. Top U.N. human rights experts said on Monday that Moscow was to blame for attempting to kill Navalny as part of a pattern of attacks on critics to quash dissent.

After his medical treatment in Germany, Navalny, 44, returned to Russia in January. He was arrested and later sentenced to more than 2-1/2 years in jail for parole violations he said were trumped up.

Biden last month called the jailing of Navalny "politically motivated" and called for his release. He has pledged a new and tough approach toward Moscow, saying the United States would no longer be "rolling over" in the face of aggressive action by Russia.

Washington and Moscow disagree on a wide range of issues on top of Navalny, such as Russia's military ambitions in Ukraine and Georgia, as well as a cyberattack on U.S. government agencies last year that Washington blames on Russia. Moscow has denied responsibility for the hacking campaign.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Peter Cooney)

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