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Heavy poisoning will trigger sanctions against EU Russians, diplomats say

LUXEMBOURG – European Union foreign ministers backed a Franco-German plan Monday to impose sanctions on Russians suspected of poisoning Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent, diplomats said.

Berlin and Paris made their proposal at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg. They say they have not received a credible explanation from Moscow about what, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), is the presence of banned Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in Navalny’s body.

“This (violation of the chemical convention) cannot go unnoticed,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters when he arrived at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

Western governments and NATO have said Russia, which has denied Navalny’s allegations that it was involved in his poisoning in August, must help with investigations or face consequences.

Navalny fell ill on a flight to Siberia on August 20 and was subsequently taken by air to Berlin for treatment.

“France and Germany are proposing sanctions against certain people who caught our eye in this regard,” Maas said, without giving details.

Diplomats say the two countries plan to propose sanctions against several Russian GRU military intelligence officers.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell rings a bell to signal the start of a meeting of foreign ministers at the European Council building in Luxembourg on Monday.Jean-Christophe Verhagen / AP

The speed with which Europe’s two main powers agreed to move forward with sanctions suggested boosting the bloc’s diplomacy with Moscow. It contrasts with 2018, when it took almost a year for the EU to agree on sanctions against the Russians following an attack by a nerve agent on a Russian spy in Britain.

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Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schalenberg, whose country is one of Russia’s closest allies in the bloc, said there could be no “return to normal business” and that Moscow had failed to help clear up suspicions of poisoning.

Blood samples taken by Navalny confirmed the presence of a nerve agent from the banned Novichok family, the OPCW said last week.

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