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EU set to sanction four Russian officials over Navalny case



EU countries reached a preliminary agreement to sanction four Russian government officials over the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, according to four diplomats.

The deal was reached Friday in a technical working group of the Council of the EU, called Relex, which deals with the legal complexity of sanctions.

The measures are not yet final. The sanctions — consisting of travel bans and asset freezes — will be on the table Monday in a meeting of EU ambassadors and likely formalized in writing on Tuesday. The penalties have to be approved unanimously and can be challenged in court.

EU ministers gave the green light this past Monday to hit Russia with fresh penalties over Navalny’s arrest and imprisonment, which has been widely decried as politically motivated. They come on the heels of sanctions the EU imposed on Russia last year after Navalny was poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent and had to be treated in Germany. Navalny and Western nations blamed Russian agents for the poisoning, which the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.

The new EU sanctions will be the first time it has used the so-called EU Magnitsky Act — a mechanism agreed to last December that offers more ways to punish individuals involved in human rights violations.

The penalties will target Russia’s prosecutor general, Igor Krasnov, and the head of its federal prisons service, Alexander Kalashnikov, according to two of the diplomats.

According to a third diplomat, the list also includes Alexander Bastrykin, whose Investigative Committee handles probes into major crimes and is considered very close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bastrykin is already under sanctions in the U.K and has been blacklisted by the U.S over the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax adviser arrested in 2008 after alleging that Russian officials were involved in large-scale tax fraud. Magnitsky later died in a Moscow prison after complaining of mistreatment.

Several laws across the world empowering governments to sanction foreign individuals over human rights abuses more flexibly were named after Magnitsky following his death, including U.S. and EU measures.

The fourth person set for sanctioning is Viktor Zolotov, head of Russia’s National Guard, according to the third diplomat. Zolotov used to be Putin’s bodyguard and in September 2018 promised Navalny “payback,” saying he would “make a juicy beefsteak out of” him.

The upcoming penalties are expected to escalate tensions with Moscow. In an interview with Die Welt earlier this week, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said Moscow would be ready to respond to any new punitive measures.

Navalny was jailed in Russia after returning to Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from his poisoning. The anti-corruption campaigner was arrested and sentenced to more than two years in prison, charged with violating prior probation orders while in Germany. He was accused of violating his parole orders from a previous case in which he received a suspended sentence on trumped-up fraud charges condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, which also condemned Navalny’s recent sentencing.



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