The European Union and the United States unveiled a set of sanctions on Russian officials due to the involvement of Putin’s regime on the poisoning and imprisonment of renowned opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Marking the first significant action of the Biden administration against the Russian government, which comes less than a week after his first major military action of his term.
In a press statement released by the Secretary of State, the United States condemned the involvement of the Russian government in the assassination attempt of Navalny, calling it a “use of chemical weapons” that contravenes international law while also asserting that Navalny’s sentence was “politically motivated”. The Secretary of State informed that the Treasury is designating seven Russian government functionaries for their role in Navalny’s case, would expand some of the already existing sanctions over Russia, prohibit the export of defense articles to the Kremlin, and adding 14 Russian entities to a trade-restricting blacklist published by the US government.
Brussels followed suit as the European Council simultaneously released a statement informing the public on the sanctions that they would impose on four Russian functionaries, including Russia’s attorney general, as part of the coordinated response to the Navalny case. In the statement released to the press, the EU reminds that those officers who are sanctioned are now facing travel restrictions and an asset freeze in the continent.
Alexei Navalny was sentenced to serve two and a half years in a Russian prison for violating his parole terms. His arrest and imprisonment lead many protesters to express their discontent over it and also was heavily condemned by the majority of the international community, even if some NGOs like Amnesty International followed Moscow’s line and decided to remove Navalny’s status as a prisoner of conscience.
The sanctions are showing two key things of the new foreign policy coming from the White House: it will maintain a very tough positioning towards Moscow, and it would heavily emphasize the importance of multilateralism and cooperation with traditional US allies.
The president had already showed his willingness to pressure Putin on the outstanding issues between both countries. In the readout of the first official phone call between the two leaders in late January, Biden pressed Putin about the Solar wind hacks, the reports of Russian bounties against US soldiers in Afghanistan, electoral interference, and the poisoning of Alexei Navalny.
The fact that the White House imposed its first significant set of sanctions in conjunction with the EU shows that Washington DC will try to use a more multilateral approach when talking about Russia and other significant issues in the world. This could be a double-edged sword for the US as there will be many cases where a coordinated approach could hamper a quick and decisive response from part of the US.
The United States of America is facing a myriad of foreign policy challenges throughout the world: Venezuela and transnational crime in the Americas, an unstable middle east (again), an increasingly aggressive Russia, and the emergence of Chinese competition and expansion in the world stage.
Biden has taken action on at least two of those issues (the Middle East and Russia), let’s see if his administration would be able to determine which are the most salient issues for American National Security and focus its resources in a strategic and astute way while also acting side by side with their allies. Biden has the challenge to continue to work on the foreign policy successes of the Trump administration while also working to build up his own record, only time will tell if he will be able to do that.