The poisoning scandal of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has led to the first real consequences for Russian officials. The European Union has published an updated sanctions list, which includes six more Russians and one organization. Among the new defendants are the first deputy head of the presidential administration, Sergei Kiriyenko, FSB director Alexander Bortnikov, and two deputy defense ministers. All of them in Brussels are considered accomplices in the assassination attempt on Mr. Navalny with the use of chemical weapons. According to a Kommersant source in the Russian presidential administration, being included in the West’s sanctions lists in the Kremlin is still perceived as a reward.
Six plus GosNIIOKhT
The decision to impose new sanctions against a number of Russians was taken by the foreign ministers of the EU member states, who on Monday discussed at a meeting the situation with the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. The EU relies on the data of laboratory studies carried out in Germany, France and Sweden, and are sure that a poisonous substance from the Novichok group was used in the assassination attempt on the oppositionist. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday that the Russians on the sanctions list “can be considered responsible” for what happened to Alexei Navalny.
The list (.pdf) released on Thursday includes six names and one organization. The document contains a table with the personal data of the new defendants (name, date and place of birth), as well as a short explanation of why this person came under the sanctions. For example, it mentions that the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration (AP) of the Russian Federation Sergey Kirienko oversees internal politics. It is further stated that Alexei Navalny “was subjected to systematic attacks and reprisals from state and judicial authorities because of his leading role in the opposition,” and the substance with which he was poisoned “is available only to the state authorities of the Russian Federation.”
«Under these conditions, there is reason to conclude that the poisoning of Alexei Navalny was possible only in agreement with the presidential administration, ”the document says.
Thus, Mr. Kiriyenko, given his leadership position, was found guilty of encouraging and supporting the assassination attempt.
The inclusion of the FSB director on the lists is explained in a similar way. Alexandra Bortnikova, Plenipotentiary of the President in the Siberian Federal District Sergey Menyailo and the head of the department of internal policy (ODP) AP Andrey Yarin.
“By this decision, the EU Council harmed relations with our country. Moscow will undoubtedly analyze the situation and will act in accordance with its own interests, – said the press secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov on Thursday. – Unfortunately, this is a deliberate unfriendly step towards Russia. Mr. Peskov also denies information that a special working group was created in the RF Presidential Administration to discredit Alexei Navalny, as the authors of the sanctions list write about it. Recall that in March 2017, on the eve of the presidential elections, unknown persons poured green paint on Alexei Navalny in Barnaul, and in April of the same year, a similar attack was carried out in Moscow. Then the oppositionist received a chemical burn to his eye. The politician himself claimed that the attack was organized by the AP through the Kremlin-controlled movements such as GCD. The media, citing sources in the administration, in turn, wrote that the Kremlin categorically denies that anyone could have sanctioned such attacks on any of the politicians. The officials promised to give a command to all regions about the inadmissibility of such actions. The attacks did stop shortly after these statements.
At the same time, according to Kommersant’s information, the AP is really trying to informationally “work out” loud reasons associated with Alexei Navalny.
However, usually such information support is supervised not by the Office of the Interior Ministry, headed by the new person involved in the EU blacklist, Andrei Yarin, but by the structures responsible for the information block. The tasks of Mr. Yarin and the department headed by him include supervising the regions during the inter-election period, interaction with regional authorities and parliamentary parties. The official regularly appears personally at public events of United Russia. At times, Andrei Yarin is also responsible for interaction with law enforcement agencies. The interlocutor of Kommersant, close to the AP, believes that the appearance of Mr. Yarin on the list indicates a “tip” from the oppositionist himself. According to him, all the evidence is limited to the fact that Andrei Yarin was allegedly responsible for countering and fighting Alexei Navalny: “But this is like saying that two times two is four: of course, an official in charge of domestic politics is obliged to monitor the actions opposition “.
In addition to two representatives of the Presidential Administration, two Deputy Defense Ministers of the Russian Federation were also sanctioned Pavel Popov and Alexey Krivoruchko, as well as the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (ГосНИИОХТ). The authors of the EU list note that the Ministry of Defense “was responsible for the storage of chemical weapons left over from the times of the USSR, and their safety up to their disposal,” and FSUE GosNIIOKhT took part in the disposal of these chemical weapons. Information on the institution’s participation in the disposal of chemical weapons is also available on its official website. They did not respond to Kommersant’s request to comment on the inclusion of the institute in the sanctions list. Since a poisonous substance “accessible only to the authorities” was used against Mr. Navalny, it means that the EU is arguing that the case is either a malicious act or the negligence of the Ministry of Defense, as well as the fact that the institute has not completely disposed of the chemical weapons entrusted to him.
Sergei Menyailo, who in 2014 worked as the acting governor of Sevastopol (and then lost the prefix acting), was included in the sanctions lists of the EU in the same spring, and then the USA, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and Australia. The reason was the referendum on the independence of Crimea. Alexander Bortnikov also got into the black lists of the EU, Switzerland, Canada and Australia – in connection with the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The other persons involved in the updated list were under sanctions for the first time.
Award from Brussels
“Comrade Navalny, to all appearances, dictated him (blacklist – Kommersant) to his Brussels comrades, guided by his own phobias and antipathies. We will write down the one who does not like it. Out of any connection with reality or with conscience, ”said Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, on Thursday.
However, from the point of view of European officials, there was still some logic in compiling the list. The basis for the imposition of sanctions was the EU Council Regulation 2018/1542, approved in October 2018. Then, six months after the poisoning in the British city of Salisbury of ex-GRU officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, the European Union approved a new regime of sanctions for the use of chemical weapons. According to the regulations, personal sanctions, along with a ban on entry and freezing of funds, can be imposed against those who directly used chemical weapons, as well as those who provided financial, technical or material support, as well as helped or otherwise encouraged such actions. The new regime made it possible in early 2019 to impose sanctions against the leadership of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces (formerly the GRU of the Russian Federation), as well as the alleged employees of this structure, Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin. New suspects were added to the same list on Thursday.
In theory, getting under the sanctions is debatable.
“The standard is as follows: if a person wants to challenge his being on the sanctions list, then the EU Council will have to prove to the court that, firstly, from the reasoning part of the document, the person involved in the list understood why he was restricted in his rights and, secondly, that there were grounds for adding a person to the list, “Sergei Glandin, an advisor to the Pen & Paper bar association, told Kommersant. According to him, all the details are not indicated in the motivation part of the document, however, new persons on the list can now request a more detailed dossier on themselves. “If necessary, the Council of the European Union can provide this dossier to the person involved or to the EU Court, otherwise the decision of the Council may be canceled by the court and it will be necessary to compensate for legal costs as well. By the way, judging by practice, inclusion in the sanctions list is indeed quite often canceled, ”said the source of Kommersant.
Meanwhile, a Kommersant source close to the Presidential Administration doubts that officials will try to officially challenge the sanctions imposed on them.
And the interlocutor of Kommersant in the Presidential Administration claims that such restrictions are still perceived in the Kremlin as a reward.
Sergei Menyailo told Kommersant that in his case we are talking about the third or fourth sanctions list in which he is included. “It will not affect my work or my daily life in any way,” he said, adding that he never had real estate or other assets abroad.