Canada has slapped new sanctions on Russian officials, citing a “deteriorating human rights situation” relating to the treatment of vocal Russian government critic Alexei Navalny.
In a statement released Wednesday, Global Affairs said the new sanctions are aimed at highlighting the “shrinking space for civil society and independent voices” in Russia.
“The sanctions are part of a concerted diplomatic effort to bring pressure on senior figures in Russia’s administration involved in the attempted murder of (Alexei) Navalny, his subsequent prosecution, and the silencing of Russian citizens who protested his treatment with heavy-handed and often violent methods,” read the statement.
The sanctions are hitting nine Russian officials, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said in a tweet, and are being applied in conjunction with similar sanctions from the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union.
“The Russian government has repeatedly shown its unwillingness to respect the basic rights of its own people and address concerns raised on multiple occasions by the international community,” Garneau said in a press release about the sanctions.
“Alongside our partners, Canada will continue to increase pressure on the Russian government to unconditionally release Mr. Navalny and his supporters who have been unlawfully detained. Russia’s gross human rights violations will not go unanswered.”
Last August, Navalny – who leads the opposition party in Russia and has been vocally critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin – was sickened by the Russian nerve agent Novichok. While he survived the attempted murder after months of recuperation in Germany, he was swiftly arrested upon his arrival in Russia. The authorities said he had allegedly violated parole.
His arrest spurred protests across the country, with Russians taking to the streets to express their discontent with the crackdown on criticism against Putin. Russian police have arrested thousands of those protesters.
Navalny has since been transferred to a penal colony in Russia to serve out his sentence after what many rights groups referred to as a “show trial.”
Meanwhile, the fresh set of sanctions against Russian officials are the second set of penalties Canada has imposed on foreign officials this week. The first came down on Monday, when Canada hit four Chinese officials and one entity with sanctions in relation to what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the “gross and systematic human rights violations” taking place in the Xinjiang region.
The U.S., U.K. and EU all issued similar sanctions against Chinese officials on the same day.
In a statement issued earlier on Monday, Canada’s Department of Global Affairs explained that the penalties come amid “mounting evidence” that points to “systemic, state-led human rights violations by Chinese authorities.”
“This includes the mass arbitrary detention of more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities on the basis of their religion and ethnicity, as well as political re-education, forced labour, torture and forced sterilization,” the statement read.
China was enraged by the move. On Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying issued an explosive series of tweets reacting to the sanctions, levelling threats against the West and touting ties to Russia.
“China is not what it was 120 years ago,” Hua wrote, adding that “colluding individuals” should “think twice if they think they could make wanton smears with impunity.”
“The west shall entertain no illusion as regards China’s firm determination to defend national interests and dignity. It’s a courtesy to reciprocate what we receive. They will have to pay a price for their ignorance and arrogance,” she said.
She also warned that China and Russia intend to give “strong backing to each other” on “issues of core interests” at the United Nations Security Council table.
The fresh sanctions against Russia come just one day after those threats were levelled, but neither the statement from Global Affairs nor comments from Garneau make any mention of China.
As Canada’s actions against Russia and China continue to heat up, Canada, the United States and other democratic countries are slated to meet next month at U.S. President Joe Biden’s scheduled Summit of Democracy. China and Russia are all but guaranteed to be raised at that meeting, as Biden has been outspoken about both Russia’s treatment of Navalny and the human rights situation in China.
“Mr. Navalny, like all Russian citizens, is entitled to his rights under the Russian constitution. He’s been targeted — targeted for exposing corruption,” Biden said in a February speech.
“He should be released immediately and without condition.”
During the same speech, Biden also announced his intention to address the threat he said China poses to the United States’ “prosperity, security, and democratic values.”
“We’ll confront China’s economic abuses, counter its aggressive, coercive action,” Biden said.
— With files from The Associated Press