BRUSSELS – European Union foreign ministers agreed Monday to impose sanctions on Russian officials and organizations blamed for the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny with a Soviet-era nerve agent.
At a meeting in Luxembourg, France and Germany urged their EU partners to freeze the assets of those suspected of involvement and ban them from traveling in Europe under sanctions to combat the use and spread of chemical weapons.
“It was a complete acceptance by all member states,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters after the talks. "Everybody was supporting this proposal.”
Borrell provided no details about who might face sanctions or when the measures might come into force, but said that technical work on preparing the action will now proceed.
Navalny, an anti-corruption investigator and major political opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, fell ill on Aug. 20 during a domestic flight in Russia. He was flown to Germany for treatment two days later and is still recovering there.
Last week, tests conducted at labs designated by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed that Navalny was the victim of a Novichok nerve agent.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that given the OPCW’s findings, it is now “objectively clear that this is a breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention, one that cannot remain without consequences.”
In a statement on Friday, France and Germany said that despite repeated calls Russia has provided “no credible explanation” for what happened and that “there is no other plausible explanation for Mr Navalny’s poisoning than a Russian involvement and responsibility.”
They said they would push for EU sanctions to “target individuals deemed responsible for this crime and breach of international norms, based on their official function, as well as an entity involved in the Novichok program.”
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Monday that it’s important to persuade Moscow to fully cooperate in any investigation of the poisoning.
“The law has been broken by producing a substance like Novichok and the law has been broken by using it on Russian territory,” he said.
In parallel, the EU agreed Monday to extend until Oct. 16, 2021, the system allowing the 27-nation bloc to impose sanctions on people and organizations involved in the development and use of chemical weapons.
Nine people are already on this list — four accused of involvement in the Novichok attack in Salisbury, England, two years ago and five linked to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. One organization — Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center — is also subject to sanctions.
Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.