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UK, France and Germany plan Russia sanctions over Navalny poisoning



Navalny, a fierce critic of the Kremlin, became gravely ill on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow on August 20. He was treated at the Charité Hospital in Berlin and was discharged in late September.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed Tuesday that blood and urine samples taken from Navalny showed the presence of Novichok, a Soviet-era group of nerve agents. A Novichok agent was also used in a March 2018 attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury.

The foreign ministers of France and Germany released a joint statement Wednesday saying they were putting forward a proposal to European partners that target “individuals deemed responsible for this crime and breach of international norms,” including Russian officials and entities involved in the country’s Novichok chemical weapon program.

“A murder attempt has been made on Russian soil, against a Russian opposition figure, using a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia,” the statement said.

“We believe that there is no credible explanation for the poisoning of Mr Navalny other than Russian involvement and responsibility,” the pair said in a statement.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain would work with its international partners to take such sanctions forward. “The UK stands side by side with our German and French partners in our response to the abhorrent poisoning of Alexey Navalny,” he said in a statement Wednesday evening.

“Despite having a clear case to answer, the Russian authorities continue to make no credible attempt to investigate this attack. There is no plausible explanation for Mr Navalny’s poisoning other than Russian involvement and responsibility for this appalling attack.”

The Kremlin has strongly denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning, and offered to cooperate with Germany in an investigation into the matter, according to state news agency TASS.

TASS previously reported that Russia had “eliminated” all warfare agents, including Novichok, citing Sergei Naryshkin, the Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service. “[Warfare agents] were eliminated in accordance with OPCW procedures and rules which was properly documented. Any speculation Russia still produces or keeps in stock the old reserves of chemical warfare agents are disinformation, of course,” Naryshkin reportedly said.

Asked Tuesday about the OPCW findings, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists, “we do not have the information yet.”

Journalists Gaëlle Fournier in Paris and Nadine Schmidt in Berlin contributed to this report.



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China launches counter-mechanism to US sanctions list


China said Saturday it had launched a mechanism enabling it to restrict foreign entities, a much-anticipated move seen as retaliation to US penalties against Chinese companies such as telecom giant Huawei.

An announcement by the Ministry of Commerce did not mention any specific foreign entities, but broadly spelled out the factors that could trigger punitive measures, which may include fines, restrictions on import-export business or investment in China, and the entry of personnel or equipment into the country.

It covers “foreign enterprises, other organisations and individuals”, it said.

The launch of the “unreliable entities list” ups the ante in the escalating commercial fight with the Trump administration, which has used its own “entity list” to bar Huawei from the US market on national security grounds.

The announcement also came a day after the United States ordered a ban on downloads of popular video app TikTok and effectively blocked the use of the Chinese super-app WeChat on similar grounds, which prompted a threat by China to strike back.

Beijing would consider sanctions on entities whose activities “harm China’s national sovereignty, security, and development interests” or violate “internationally accepted economic and trade rules”.

That language closely tracks wording that Beijing has used to repeatedly denounce US actions against Chinese companies.

The ministry said that if an entity is suspected of violating the provisions, an investigation would be launched under China’s cabinet, the State Council.

The foreign party in question would have an opportunity to defend its conduct to the Chinese investigators.

Chinese enterprises that rely on business with the targeted organisations also will be allowed to apply for exemptions from any ban on doing business with them, as the US system allows.

The United States and China are engaged in an escalating trade battle centring on technology.

Huawei, the world’s leading supplier of telecoms networking equipment, has been a particular target.

Washington has used its own entity list to essentially ban Huawei from the US market and prevent American companies from doing any business with it or with Huawei-affiliated organisations.

The United States says Huawei could be used by Chinese state security to infiltrate communications networks.

China’s government and Huawei deny that, saying the US has offered no evidence supporting the claim.

Under a US order on Friday, the Tencent-owned WeChat app would lose functionality in the United States from Sunday. TikTok users will be banned from installing updates but could keep accessing the service through November 12.

China has for years blocked or restricted big US tech companies from operating in its market, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google.

dma/mtp



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Brussels extends Russia sanctions | New Europe



The European Union extended on 12 December the economic sanctions against Russia over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, for six more months.

The measures were first implemented in 2014 after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, and were set to expire in January. According to the United Nations, about 13,000 people have died since the beginning of the conflict.

The announcement follows the Paris meeting between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky. During the meeting, they agreed a ceasefire and a prisoner exchange, but failed to agree on other key issues.

The talks were mediated by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, after the meeting, recommended an extension of the restrictive measures against Moscow, till the end of July 2020.

The EU’s economic sanctions against Russia include: limited access to EU capital markets for certain Russian banks and companies; export and import ban on trade in arms; export ban for dual-use goods for military use or military end users in Russia; as well as reducing Russian access to technologies that can be used for oil production.



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U.S. Turns Up Pressure on Iran With Sanctions on Transportation Firms


WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday that the United States plans to impose new sanctions on Iran’s largest shipping company and a major airline for what he said were their roles in transporting material for the country’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

“Today’s designations put the world on notice: Those who engage in illicit transactions with these companies will risk exposure to sanctions themselves,” Mr. Pompeo said. He added that the sanctions on the shipping company and a subsidiary would not take effect until June 8, to give exporters of humanitarian goods to Iran time to find other transportation companies with which to work. The sanctions on the airline and three of its general sales agents are effective immediately.

The sanctions are intended to limit the activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines; one of its subsidiaries, E-Sail Shipping, based in Shanghai; and Mahan Air.

The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Mahan Air in 2011, but the State Department designation adds a new layer of sanctions.

The designations increase the economic pressure that the administration has applied to Iran since May 2018, when President Trump withdrew from an agreement that Iran had reached in 2015 with major world powers to limit its nuclear program. Nuclear experts said earlier this year that Iran was complying with the agreement and had not been working toward building a nuclear warhead, but Mr. Trump for years had criticized the agreement, which was forged by President Barack Obama.

The United States reimposed major sanctions on Iran in November 2018, then in May ended exceptions for oil imports granted to eight governments. That was a crippling blow to Iran’s main source of revenue. Starting this summer, Iran lashed out with attacks by missiles or drones and seizures of tankers in the region, but none of those resulted in injuries or deaths, and the Trump administration debated how to respond. Iran also announced it had breached some limits imposed by the 2015 agreement on its nuclear program, which Tehran has said is for civilian purposes.

Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia have all said they are still trying to abide by the agreement that they signed, despite the restrictions imposed since last year by the sanctions from Washington. The agreement allows for greater commercial exchanges with Iran.

In recent weeks, Iranian citizens have taken to the streets in protest against policies of the Iranian government; many of them are upset at the poor state of the economy. Iran security forces have killed hundreds in efforts to suppress the protests, according to international human rights groups. The protests are the worst unrest in Iran since the Islamic Revolution that put Shiite clerics in charge of the country in 1979.

Mr. Trump and senior administration officials have said publicly that their goal is to prompt Iran to enter into new agreements that would enshrine larger concessions from Tehran on its nuclear program, ballistic missile program and support of militias in the region. Iranian leaders have said they would consider new talks only if the United States lifts sanctions. Some experts in Washington say the real, unstated end goal of the administration is to spur uprisings in Iran that would lead to the overthrow of the cleric-led government, and sanctions are one tool to help ignite that unrest by crippling the economy.

On Saturday, in a rare instance of diplomatic cooperation between the United States and Iran, the two governments each released a prisoner who is a citizen of the other country: Xiyue Wang, an American graduate student at Princeton held for three years in Tehran, and Masoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist convicted of sanctions evasion after his arrest in Chicago last year.

Mr. Pompeo also said Wednesday that the State Department had imposed economic sanctions and travel restrictions on 68 individuals or entities around the world under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the executive branch to impose such sanctions to try to curb human rights abuses. The officials and entities sanctioned are mostly from smaller nations; the countries of origin include Myanmar, Cambodia, Serbia, Latvia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan.

The State Department issued a statement with details on the sanctions on Tuesday, which was Human Rights Day, marking the day in 1948 when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Some senior American officials and many human rights activists have urged the White House to use the Global Magnitsky Act to impose sanctions on Chinese officials deemed responsible for holding at least one million Muslims in internment camps. But Mr. Trump has rejected any such action out of fear it would harm his chances of reaching a trade deal with China. Washington and Beijing have yet to sign even a tenuous “phase one” agreement.

The Trump administration also blocked a move by members of the United Nations Security Council to hold a discussion Tuesday on human rights abuses by North Korea. Until Mr. Trump took office, the council had held such a discussion each year since 2014. But last year, the Trump administration blocked the session because Mr. Trump was trying to open one-on-one diplomacy with Kim Jong-un, the young North Korean dictator, and American officials did the same this year, despite recent threats against the United States by Mr. Kim.



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