Senators Demand Probe Into Vladimir Putin's 'Brazen' Attacks on Alexei Navalny, Secret Wealth

A bipartisan group of senators has tabled legislation seeking new sanctions on Russia and President Vladimir Putin, following the imprisonment of pro-democracy and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny.

Sens. Chris Coons, Marco Rubio, Ben Cardin, Mitt Romney, Chris Van Hollen and Dick Durbin introduced the Holding Russia Accountable for Malign Activities Act of 2021 on Wednesday.

They are among those advocating on behalf of Navalny, who was jailed for almost three years this week. He was accused of violating his parole terms under a previous money laundering conviction, which he says was politically motivated.

Navalny failed to report to his parole appointments because he was in Germany, recuperating from an assassination attempt in August. An investigation by Bellingcat, The Insider, Der Spiegel and CNN found that Russian FSB agents were responsible for the poison attack in Siberia, which left Navalny in a coma.

President Joe Biden's administration was quick to condemn Navalny's arrest on his return to Russia last month, and his prison sentence handed down this week in Moscow. Thousands of his supporters have been arrested for protesting his detention across the country.

The Holding Russia Accountable legislation would direct the Biden administration to probe whether the Kremlin broke chemical and biological weapons laws. It also calls for a report on the 2015 assassination of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov and another on the personal wealth of Putin and his inner circle amassed via "corrupt practices."

Navalny's own investigations into Russian cronyism have been embarrassing for Putin and his allies. The campaigner published a new investigation last month after he was arrested, documenting a $1.3 billion mansion on the Black Sea said to have been built for Putin. The president has denied ownership of the property.

Sen. Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, said Putin's Kremlin had "a long and sordid history of using murder and attempted murder to silence Russian citizens at home and abroad who have called attention to the regime's corrupt and abusive practices." Coons also condemned the "unbridled brutality" that met pro-Navalny demonstrations.

Rubio said the bill would "impose a cost on Putin, and his thugs, for their corruption and targeting of opponents."

Romney publicly called for additional sanctions on Russia earlier this week. His intervention prompted a rebuttal from Moscow, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova threatening retaliation.

"Taking well-considered and not aggressive action is always more useful and effective," Zakharova told the Soloviev Live YouTube channel, according to the state-run Tass news agency.

"Retaliation must certainly follow," she said. "If no symmetric or proportionate action is taken there where the United States cross the red lines, it will feel absolute impunity."

In the joint statement accompanying the bill, Romney said: "Putin and his cronies first poisoned Alexei Navalny and when they were unsuccessful at that, they set up a sham trial and sentenced him to several years in prison."

He added: "We must hold the Putin regime accountable for these acts, which are a shameless attempt to silence the voice of the Russian people fighting against corruption and for freedom and truth."

Protests support Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia
Police detain demonstrators during a protest rally against the of jailing of Alexei Navalny, on January 31 in Moscow. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images/Getty