UK, U.S. impose sanctions on Russian intelligence agents over Navalny poisoning

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FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is pictured in 2020 in Moscow

By William James and Simon Lewis

LONDON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Britain and the United States imposed sanctions on Friday on men they said were Russian intelligence operatives responsible for the poisoning one year ago of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

The two countries both targeted seven Russians with sanctions and also issued a joint statement warning Russia over chemical weapons.

Washington separately imposed sanctions on another two men and four Russian institutes it said were involved in chemical weapons research or what it described as an assassination attempt against Navalny.

Navalny was flown to Germany for medical treatment after being poisoned in Siberia on Aug. 20 last year with what Western experts concluded was the military nerve agent Novichok.

Moscow has rejected their findings and accused the West of a smear campaign against it.

An updated version of the British sanctions list published by the government on the first anniversary of Navalny's poisoning included seven new names.

"The sanctioned individuals are directly responsible for planning or carrying out the attack on Mr Navalny," a Foreign Office statement said.

British foreign minister Dominic Raab said the move was a warning to Russia. "We are sending a clear message that any use of chemical weapons by the Russian state violates international law, and a transparent criminal investigation must be held."

Russian Foreign Ministrys spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on social media that the "unilateral sanctions are illegitimate as they have not been approved by the UN Security Council".

"Russia has destroyed the chemical weapons arsenal in line with international obligations it has taken upon itself. You can't say the same about the NATO countries, for example, the USA," she said.

The sanctions will affect those people named who have overseas assets.

The U.K. document listed Alexey Alexandrov, Vladimir Panyaev, Ivan Osipov, Vladimir Bogdanov, Kirill Vasilyev, Stanislav Makshakov and Alexei Sedov. It said they were all members of Russia's FSB security service and were either directly or indirectly involved in the poisoning.

The U.S. Treasury later said it was imposing sanctions on the same seven men and two additional Russian officials it said were involved in the poisoning: Konstantin Kudryavtsev and Artur Zhirov.

It also targeted the FSB Criminalistics Institute, a lab where most of those implicated in the attack worked, and the Russian defence ministry's State Institute for Experimental Military Medicine.

The State Department also imposed sanctions on two other Russian military scientific institutes involved in chemical weapons, it said.

The individuals cited have not offered any immediate comment.

The British government cited evidence including phone and travel records showing some of the operatives were present in the Siberian city of Tomsk at the time of the poisoning.

For others it said there were reasonable grounds to suspect that, due to their positions in the intelligence service, they had "responsibility for, provided support for, or promoted the actions of the operatives who carried out the operation".

Navalny was jailed for parole violations on what he says were politically motivated charges when he flew back to Russia earlier this year from Germany.

"We call on Russia to comply fully with the Chemical Weapons Convention, including its obligations to declare and dismantle its chemical weapons programme," the joint U.S.-British statement said.

"We remain determined to uphold the global norm against the use of chemical weapons."

(Reporting by William James in London and Simon Lewis in Washington; additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by Timothy Heritage, Mark Heinrich, Frances Kerry and Cynthia Osterman)

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