Act­ing against Rus­sia poi­son­ings

Mr. Putin needs to hear that at­tack­ing your crit­ics brings sig­nif­i­cant costs.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

THE EURO­PEAN UNION and Bri­tain have now de­liv­ered a re­minder no­tice to the Krem­lin, say­ing, “The use of chem­i­cal weapons con­sti­tutes a se­ri­ous breach of in­ter­na­tional law.” The global treaty ban­ning chem­i­cal weapons was signed by Rus­sia in 1993 and rat­i­fied by Moscow in 1997. So it is en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate that sanc­tions be im­posed on Rus­sian of­fi­cials for the poi­son­ing with a chem­i­cal agent of op­po­si­tion leader Alexei Navalny. The United States has yet to act, and must not de­lay.

Mr. Navalny, the lead­ing op­po­si­tion fig­ure to Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, sur­vived an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt in Au­gust af­ter po­lit­i­cal or­ga­niz­ing in Tomsk. He fell ill aboard a plane en route to Moscow; the plane made an emer­gency land­ing in Omsk. Re­cov­er­ing in Ger­many, where he was treated, Mr. Navalny has blamed Mr. Putin. The Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons (OPCW) has con­firmed that the sub­stance used to poi­son him had “sim­i­lar struc­tural char­ac­ter­is­tics” to the Soviet-era nerve agent Novi­chok. In re­sponse to this, Rus­sia’s re­ac­tion has been to deny and ob­fus­cate rather than in­ves­ti­gate.

The at­tack on Mr. Navalny, an anti-cor­rup­tion fighter who has demon­strated re­mark­able re­siliency in lead­ing the op­po­si­tion, must have been ap­proved at the high­est lev­els. Novi­chok was a chem­i­cal weapon cre­ated by the Soviet Union near the end of the Cold War, and the OPCW re­port sug­gested the sub­stance used to sicken Mr. Navalny may have been mod­i­fied in some way from ear­lier com­pounds. Novi­chok was also used to poi­son for­mer mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer Sergei Skri­pal and his daugh­ter in 2018 in Eng­land.

These look like state-spon­sored as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts. As an E.U. state­ment said, Novi­chok “is ac­ces­si­ble only to State au­thor­i­ties in the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. In these cir­cum­stances and tak­ing into ac­count that Alexei Navalny was un­der sur­veil­lance at the time of his poi­son­ing, it is rea­son­able to con­clude that the poi­son­ing was only pos­si­ble with the in­volve­ment of the Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice.”

The new sanc­tions — as­set freezes and travel bans — are im­posed on Alexan­der Bort­nikov, di­rec­tor of the Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice, a suc­ces­sor to the Soviet KGB, and An­drei Yarin, a Krem­lin of­fi­cial “whose role was to counter Alexei Navalny’s in­flu­ence in Rus­sian so­ci­ety in­clud­ing through op­er­a­tions meant to dis­credit him,” ac­cord­ing to the E.U. state­ment. The oth­ers sanc­tioned are Mr. Putin’s first deputy chief of staff, Sergei Kirienko; a re­gional boss; two deputy de­fense min­is­ters; and the Rus­sian chem­i­cal weapons re­search in­sti­tute that de­vel­oped Novi­chok.

Where is the United States? Pres­i­dent Trump’s du­bi­ous affin­ity for Mr. Putin should not in­hibit U.S. sanc­tions in con­cert with Europe. Mr. Putin un­doubt­edly ex­pects to ig­nore the fuss and do noth­ing, as was the case in pre­vi­ous at­tacks and mur­ders. He needs to hear — loud and clear — that at­tempt­ing to kill your crit­ics is wrong and has sig­nif­i­cant costs.

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