Alexei Navalny ally urges Biden to sanction Putin associates
A close ally of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged U.S. President Joe Biden to take punitive action against a wider group of associates of President Vladimir Putin, saying current sanctions aren't sufficient to stop the Kremlin from cracking down on political opponents and violating human rights.
"Existing sanctions don't reach enough of the right people," Vladimir Ashurkov wrote in a letter to Biden posted on his Facebook page on Saturday. He listed 35 people, including billionaires Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov, senior staffers of Putin's administration, and the heads of several state companies who Navalny says should be targeted.
"Anything less will fail to make the regime change its behavior," Ashurkov wrote. "The West must sanction the decision makers who have made it national policy to rig elections, steal from the budget, and poison." Navalny and his allies also want the U.S. to sanction those who hold their money.
The list includes two billionaires, VTB Bank Chief Executive Officer Andrey Kostin, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko and the prominent adult children of Putin allies. Some of those have already been sanctioned by the U.S. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who is also listed, didn't respond to a request for a comment.
A spokesman for Usmanov declined to comment. Usmanov got into a video spat with Navalny from his 156-meter (512-foot) yacht in 2017 over an investigation into donations to a fund benefiting then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The billionaire later won a defamation suit against Navalny.
A spokeswoman for Abramovich said there is no basis for the claims, "which are entirely without foundation." A VTB spokesperson couldn't immediately comment.
Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 upon his return from Germany, where he'd been recovering from a nerve-agent attack in August that he and Western governments blamed on the Kremlin. It denies any involvement. A Russian court put him in custody for 30 days.
He faces as long as 3 1/2 years in prison at a hearing set for Feb. 2 on charges he breached the terms of a suspended sentence. He may also face separate charges of embezzlement punishable by as many as 10 years in prison.
Biden pressed Putin on the poisoning of Navalny in his first phone call with the Russian president on Jan. 26 after taking office. The Kremlin said Putin answered all Biden's questions in their conversation. It has rejected calls from Western leaders to release the Putin critic. The Russian leader has repeatedly criticized Western sanctions as illegitimate and has sworn never to alter his course because of external pressure.
Tens of thousands of people in cities across Russia took part in mass protests last weekend to demand Navalny be freed. More protests are planned for tomorrow.
Public anger was sparked, in part, by a video by Navalny claiming Putin has built a $1.35 billion palace on the Black Sea, a clip that has drawn more than 100 million views since it was published last week. On Saturday, Putin ally Arkady Rotenberg said he bought the luxury estate to turn it into hotel, according to his press service.
Bloomberg via The Washington Post