Moscow has warned the West not to “play with fire” in reaction to the latest round of sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union against senior Russian officials over the poisoning and imprisonment of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.
In a statement issued late on March 2, Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the sanctions “a hostile move towards Russia.”
“Absurdity triumphs when the reason behind the sanctions is based on [Aleksei] Navalny’s alleged ‘poisoning’ with some toxic ‘chemical warfare’ agent. This is just a pretext for the continuing undisguised interference in our domestic affairs, and we will not accept this,” she said in the statement.
“Regardless of the US’s enthusiasm for sanctions we will continue to consistently and resolutely uphold our national interests and rebuff any aggression. We urge our colleagues not to play with fire.”
Zakharova’s statement came hours after the United States and the European Union announced the sanctions.
Washington said it was sanctioning seven senior Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin’s deputy chief of staff, after a U.S. intelligence assessment concluded “with high confidence” that officers from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) were behind Navalny’s August poisoning.
The U.S. announcement came on the heels of European Union sanctions against four senior Russian officials — Aleksandr Kalashnikov, the federal prisons administration; Aleksandr Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee; Igor Krasnov, the prosecutor-general; and Viktor Zolotov, director of the National Guard.
The U.S. also sanctioned Kalashnikov and Krasnov as well as Sergei Kiriyenko, the first deputy chief of staff; Andrei Yarin, the chief of the Kremlin’s domestic policy directorate; FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov; Aleksei Krivoruchko, the deputy minister of defense responsible for armaments; and Pavel Popov, the deputy minister of defense responsible for research activities.
Jen Psaki, the Biden administration’s spokeswoman, said the U.S. wanted to coordinate the timing of the sanctions with the EU to “send a powerful message” to the Kremlin.
Washington also imposed export restrictions on 14 parties involved in biological and chemical production, including nine commercial entities in Russia.
Zakharova accused the United States of “lecturing” others and of being counterproductive with its words and actions.
“Based on the principle of reciprocity, we will respond but not necessarily with symmetrical measures.” she said in the statement.
Navalny was detained in Moscow in January immediately upon returning from Germany, where he had recovered from what several Western labs determined was poisoning with a Novichok-type nerve agent that saw him fall ill on a flight in Siberia in August.
A Moscow court in February ruled that, while in Germany, he had violated the terms of parole from an older embezzlement case that is widely considered politically motivated. He was ultimately ordered to serve 2 1/2 years in prison.
Russia has denied involvement in the poisoning but Navalny claims the assassination attempt was ordered by President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, UN human rights experts on March 1 called for an international investigation into the poisoning of Navalny, Putin’s most vocal critic, saying evidence points to the “very likely involvement” of Russian government officials.
The EU had already imposed sanctions on Russia following the poisoning attack on Navalny last year. But former U.S. President Donald Trump let the incident slide without punitive action.