Britain, France, and Germany said they will sanction Russia over Alexei Navalny’s poisoning. Putin won’t care.

Britain, France, and Germany said they will sanction Russia over Alexei Navalny’s poisoning. Putin won’t care.


(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on October 1, 2020 shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (L, on January 16, 2018 in Moscow) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (on July 4, 2019 in Rome). - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has accused President Vladimir Putin of being behind his poisoning, in his first interview published since he left the German hospital where he was treated. "I assert that Putin is behind this act, I don't see any other explanation," he told the German weekly Der Spiegel, which published extracts from the interview on its website Thursday, October 1, 2020. (Photos by Mladen ANTONOV and Tiziana FABI / AFP) (Photo by MLADEN ANTONOV,TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images)
A composite image of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and President Vladimir Putin. MLADEN ANTONOV,TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images
  • The UK, France, and Germany this week pledged to sanction Russia over the August 20 poisoning of Alexei Navalny, a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin.

  • The sanctions will target “individuals deemed responsible” and “an entity involved in the Novichok program,” France and Germany said.

  • It will likely have no effect in Moscow.

  • Sanctions were imposed following the 2018 poisoning of Sergei Skripal in England, and the 2019 killing of a Chechen rebel leader in Germany. Neither deterred Russia from trying to take out Navalny in Siberia.

  • A Russia expert told Business Insider there was “a very weak response” to those sanctions, adding: “We’ve long since gone past the point where Putin cares about what the West thinks about him.”

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Three of Europe’s largest powers pledged in no uncertain terms earlier this week to sanction Russia over the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

France and Germany said in a joint statement, later echoed by the UK, that sanctions “will target individuals deemed responsible for this crime” and “an entity involved in the Novichok program.”

Navalny, the top critic of President Vladimir Putin, was poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent on August 20. He spent 48 hours in a Russian hospital before he was permitted to fly to Berlin for specialist care, where he remained until September 22.

In an October 1 interview with Der Spiegel Navalny directly accused Putin of approving the hit.

Russia has denied carrying out the attack, but Europe isn’t willing to take the Kremlin’s word for it — and is hoping that imposing sanctions on an individual level will deter Russia from trying again.

But the measures will fall on deaf ears in the Kremlin, as similar measures have numerous times before.

“We’ve long since gone past the point where Putin cares about what the West thinks about him. He knows that we’re not friends,” Mark Galeotti, a Russia scholar and senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider.

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Putin in Moscow, Russia, on September 28, 2020. Alexei DruzhininTASS via Getty Images

“This to me sounds like a move that’s more about demonstrating political will than actually having any real impact: something has to be done and here’s something we can do,” Galeotti said.

The individuals sanctioned by France, Germany, and the UK are “basically going to be people within the security apparatus who are already not looking to buy themselves an agreeable little gîte in France, or keep money in a bank account somewhere in Munich.”

“It’s not going to influence Putin at all. If corrupt individuals lose out on some assets well, that’s their lookout. It’s not really going to change the opinions of people in the security apparatus, as they’re in too deep,” he said.

Past sanctions have done little to nothing

In the wake of the March 4, 2018, poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, dozens of Russian diplomats were expelled from the US, Germany, France and the UK, with Russia responding in kind.

The EU and the US then imposed sanctions, with the latter limiting the export of sensitive national-security goods to Russia.

navalny skripal 2x1 skitch
A composite image of Navalny in a photo posted September 22, 2020; and Yulia Skripal in London on May 23, 2018. Both photos were taken after they were released from the hospital following Novichok poisoning. They bore the same scar from an apparent tracheotomy. Alexei Navalny/Instagram; Dylan Martinez/Reuters; Business Insider

That appeared to have little to no effect on Russia’s behavior. The country has continued its attempts to silence its critics, and shrugged off accusations as hearsay.

On August 23, 2019, the Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, who fought Russia in the 1990s, was shot dead in broad daylight in Berlin.

In the aftermath, Germany expelled two Russian diplomats and in June 2020, formally accused Russia of ordering the hit.

And yet, 14 months after the hit on Khangoshvili, Russia is once again facing sanctions following its most recent, high-profile assassination target: Navalny.

Navalny
Navalny and his family pose for a picture at Charité hospital in Berlin, Germany, in this undated image obtained from social media September 15, 2020. Reuters

A Central European intelligence official, who works in opposition to Russian intelligence services, previously told Business Insider that Russian attacks on Navalny would continue upon his return, and that Putin will not care about sanctions.

Navalny is currently in Berlin, where he received treatment, but has said that he will return to Russia.

‘A symbolic, rather than a significant response’

Galeotti, the Russian expert, said that while there was ultimately little change inside Russia following the reaction to the Skripal hit, it did shock officials in the country.

“The thing with the Skripal case was that it was a massive multinational expulsion of Russian spies and it was one that caught the Russians by surprise,” he told Business Insider.

“They had no idea this big wave of additional expulsions was coming. That was genuinely shocking to the Russians. It had a genuine impact on their intelligence activities.”

But ultimately, Galeotti said, “not only was there a very weak reponse to [the sanctions] but now, with Navalny again, it’s a symbolic rather than a significant response.”

“I suspect that the Kremlin will complain, it will kick up a fuss, but in practice, I think it will be fine. “

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