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Navalny aide warns against broad sanctions on Russia

September 23, 2020

Sweeping Western sanctions against Russia would be playing into the Kremlin’s hand, a top aide to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has told DW. Navalny was the victim of a near-fatal poisoning in August.

Leonid Volkov, a top aide to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
Image: Michael Sohn/AP Photo/picture-alliance

Untargeted sanctions against Russia from the West over the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny would be, paradoxically, an "enormous opportunity" for Moscow, a top aide to the politician said Tuesday.

"Any time a huge round of sectoral sanctions is adopted somewhere in Europe, they open a big box of champagne in the Kremlin," Leonid Volkov told DW's Konstantin Eggertin in an interview in Berlin. 

Germany is considering broad sanctions against Russia in response to the near-fatal poisoning of Kremlin critic Navalny last month. His aides have accused the Russian government of ordering his poisoning, an accusation Moscow has denied.

"[Russian leadership is] very happy because every round of wide sanctions gives enormous opportunity for the Kremlin propaganda to support its narrative, like: 'the whole West is against us,” Volkov said.

Poison just one method used to attack Kremlin critics

Better to target corrupt elite

The West should instead consider sanctions against individuals that would target Russian President Vladimir Putin's lieutenants and inner circle, Volkov said. 

"Billions of dollars stolen from Russian taxpayers are converted to luxury homes in London, hotels in Austria, chateaus in France, etc., etc …” Volkov said. "This is all dirty money, laundering money that corrupts European politicians, but that also corrupts European political institutions. And at some point, this has to be stopped."

German threats to respond by cancelling the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline deal with Russia appear "artificial,” the aide said, cautioning against the move.

Read more: Germany is mulling economic sanctions against Russia. Do they actually work?

"I know there is already a debate [about the gas project] in Germany ... on the fate of Nord Stream 2,” Volkov said.

"When they try to connect it with the use of chemical weapons, it sounds like — for Putin and his propaganda, also — it sounds like they are being opportunistic.”

Navalny has been recovering in Berlin and said he intends to return to Russia. 

Putin sees West as 'hypocrites'

Volkov, who has worked alongside Navalny for years, said he hopes the poisoning will change the way Germany interacts with Russia.

The "bridge-building strategy” Germany has employed for years with Russia is something Putin always considered a weakness, he said.

"When people try to approach [Putin] and try to discuss something ... he was always thinking of his counterparts as hypocrites," Volkov said. "Talking liberal values, talking freedoms, but actually they need [him]."

"'Whatever I do, they will always again approach me because they are hypocrites and cowards,'" Volkov said, attributing the thought to the Russian president.

"That is the only outcome of all the attempts to build bridges with Putin."