The Biden Administration is unveiling a package of sanctions against Russia in the coming days in a forceful rebuke over the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader and powerful critic of President Putin. Government officials have told media outlets in the US that retaliation will happen in co-ordination with the European Union to send a strong united western message to Putin. Biden officials have already announced the sanctioning of seven Senior Russian officials, with more expected in the coming days.
Navalny was the victim of a Novichok attack, a fast-acting nerve agent, in August of 2020 whilst on board a flight. It is the same drug used in the Salisbury poisoning in 2018. The nerve agent caused a rapid deterioration in his health and forced Navalny into a medically induced coma for almost 3 weeks in Germany. He made a full recovery and returned to Russia in January 2021, where he was detained on arrival. A court case was unlawfully called and on February 2nd, Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years in a corrective labour colony in Russia.
Footage of the poisoning circulated social media in a matter of hours. Outrage and fury spread amongst many world leaders, with the EU and the UK responding with force and quickly imposing sanctions on top Russian officials. However, there was a notable silence from Washington, which prompted widespread criticism and many questions as to why Trump was not prepared to intervene.
The Kremlin and the Trump administration have had what could be described as a cosy relationship over the past four years. Putin and his allies led coordinated and complex interference into both the 2016 and 2020 Presidential Election by spreading multitudes of misinformation on social media platforms. However, the Trump administration refused to impose sanctions despite the well evidenced allegations. The seemingly spineless behaviour of the White House led to extensive backlash in the court of public opinion as well as amongst members of his own party. There were increasingly pertinent accusations against former President Trump of colluding with Russia whilst others going so far as to claim that Putin had compromising information on Trump obtained during his visit in 2013, prior to taking office. The combination of both pro-Trump election interference alongside the potential for damaging person in combatting the profound attacks on western democracy.
The shift of tone within the Biden administration is a breath of fresh air for American democracy. Strong anti-Russian rhetoric, harsh policies and international coordination aimed at securing genuine political and social freedom in Russia. One White House official said, “The tone and substance of our conversations with Russia and our conversations about Russia will be very different from what you saw in the previous administration”. A transition from the somewhat weak approach by the Obama and Trump administration is welcomed by many in the Democratic Party and those across the aisle. There were, however, concerns that these actions as being largely symbolic and in reality, Russia will continue to act aggressively with little repercussions. These new sanctions should put a rest to such allegations, but it is likely that further actions will be needed to be taken in the coming months.
Although sanctions are not uncommon between these two countries, this situation is notable due to the coordinated effort between America and the European Union. The tumultuous relationship between the East and West has only become more complex and coordinated responses are a welcomed change to the usual disparate responses. It is important to analyse the impacts of these sanctions. They have the potential to catalyse further debates over the future of democracy in Russia but could also further drive a wedge between an already thawed and tenuous relationship between the West and Russia. Biden’s administration is certainly keeping its promise to be tougher on Russia. Will Russia keel to the new American approach or respond in force?