Biden administration announces new sanctions against Russia for Navalny poisoning

The World

On Tuesday the Biden administration announced new sanctions against Russia. The sanctions were put in place against individuals who were involved in the poisoning operation and imprisonment of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny. Many experts see these sanctions as largely symbolic, but this is the first action the Biden administration has taken against Russia. Host Marco Werman talks with Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the director of their trans-Atlantic security program.

TRANSCRIPT

Marco Werman:
The Biden administration announced new sanctions against Russia today. They're targeted at specific individuals, the ones involved in the poisoning and imprisonment of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny. This marks the first direct action taken by the Biden White House against Russia. Andrea Kendall-Taylor joins us. She's with the Center for a New American Security and is the director of the Transatlantic Security Program. First of all, Andrea, remind us what Alexei Navalny's situation is and what the latest news is today.

Andrea Kendall-Taylor:
The current situation is the Russian government attempted to kill Alexei Navalny using a chemical agent called Novichok. They were unsuccessful in their attempted assassination and Navalny had recuperated in Germany. He then attempted to return to Russia in order to continue with his efforts in opposition to the Kremlin. And upon his arrival was arrested by the Russian government and is now in a prison just outside Moscow.

Marco Werman:
Explain the reasoning behind why the US government is now sanctioning people, certain government officials in Russia in connection with his poisoning.

Andrea Kendall-Taylor:
Well, the United States has legislation on the books called the Chemical and Biological Weapons legislation [Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act] that dates back to the time of the Iraq war that necessitates requires that the United States sanctions governments that use chemical weapons. I think what's interesting here, too, is that the administration has signaled that it is going beyond what is required in the Chemical and Biological Weapons legislation and going after specific individuals that were involved in the attempted assassination, attempted poisoning of Mr. Navalny.

Marco Werman:
So, Andrea, you say Biden is going beyond the sanctions required here with these targeted sanctions. But are targeted sanctions effective? Do they actually affect the Russian government's behavior?

Andrea Kendall-Taylor:
I think that's one of the most hotly debated and contested questions in the Russian community. And in this case, we have not yet seen evidence of a significant change in Putin's behavior and the behavior of the Russian government. And I do think that's why we see the Biden administration also doubling down on efforts to increase our own resilience. It is important, particularly in these cases of democracy and human rights abuses, that the United States does signal that this is clearly out of bounds. But there is a recognition, I think, that it will be difficult to change the Putin regime's behavior. And so the Biden administration has talked a lot about how we can increase our own resilience and the health of our own democracy and the democracies of our allies and partners, in part to make the actions that the Putin regime takes less effective.

Marco Werman:
No matter who's targeting these sanctions, what is the risk that these sanctions are counterproductive and just lead to a tit-for-tat or a standoff with Russia just escalating an already frosty relationship?

Andrea Kendall-Taylor:
I think in the case of the United States, there's not a lot of leverage that Russia has when it comes to its relationship with the United States. It may be of more concern for the European Union that has a lot more economic relationships with Russia. In the case with the Biden administration, as long as these sanctions are matched with some effort to increase diplomacy and engagement with the Kremlin, that that kind of balanced, more pragmatic approach can be effective in trying to put some guardrails on the relationship.

Marco Werman:
Well, Andrea, you're kind of leaning into the answer to my last question. You had been on the list of candidates to be Biden's senior director for Russia and Central Asia at the National Security Council. So I imagine you have some good sense of this. How would you describe Biden's strategy generally when it comes to Russia? What should we expect?

Andrea Kendall-Taylor:
I think I would call it a principled pragmatism. And they've clearly signaled this. I think, with the steps that they've taken right out of the gates, where there was certainly a willingness to extend New START and using New START to signal the administration's desire to continue to engage the Kremlin on arms control and strategic stability. There's been clear signals of a desire to engage the Kremlin where there are pragmatic reasons for doing so, when it can advance US national interests. The reality of the situation is, is that the balance in this relationship for the time being may be more on the confrontation rather than the engagement side of the ledger. And that's in large part, though, because there's very little willingness coming out of the Kremlin for that type of engagement. The saying is it takes two to tango and the Kremlin hasn't really signaled its desire to engage with the United States in any significant way. So I do think it's kind of a principled pragmatism. There is a recognition that the relationship is in a very difficult and potentially dangerous place. So they're not looking to dial tensions up, but rather to return and restore some predictability and stability in that relationship.

Marco Werman:
Andrea Kendall-Taylor at the Center for a New American Security, speaking with us about new US sanctions against Russian officials. Andrea, thanks very much.

Andrea Kendall-Taylor:
Thanks for having me.

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