The EU imposed sanctions on Thursday on six individuals and one entity it believes were involved in the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
The individuals are some of the highest-ranking officials in Russia, including the head of domestic intelligence services, a deputy government minister and a deputy chief of staff in President Vladimir Putin’s office.
The decision comes after a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Tuesday and nine days after the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that the substance used to poison Navalny was Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent.
Amongst those blacklisted include Putin allies Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of Russia’s domestic spy agency, the Federal Security Service, Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of staff in the Presidential Executive Office, and Andrei Yarin, head of the presidential administration’s domestic policy directorate whose oversight included “countering Alexei Navalny’s influence in Russian society”.
Pavel Popov, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defence, was also cited in the EU’s sanctions list.
The State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology, the Russian body responsible for the destruction of Soviet-era chemical weapons stockpiles, has also been sanctioned.
The EU said that the use of Novichok in an attack against Navalny would only have been possible because of the failings of the Institute to destroy the remaining stockpiles.
The adopted measures include a travel ban to EU countries and an asset freeze for individuals named and the Institute. In addition, EU persons and entities are forbidden from making funds available to those on the sanctions list.
Russia would retaliate in kind with reciprocal sanctions against the EU, the country’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.
The punitive measures are similar to those imposed in the wake of the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury, the UK, in March 2018.
Like Navalny, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer and double agent, and his daughter Yulia, were poisoned with Novichok.
Both survived the attack.
Navalny became seriously ill on a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20, eventually falling into a coma at a hospital in Omsk.
After two days, he was airlifted to the Charité hospital in Berlin for further treatment where he stayed in an induced coma for 16 days.
He was discharged from hospital in the German capital at the end of September after 32 days of treatment, 24 of which were spent in intensive care.
In an interview with German magazine Der Speigel earlier this month, Navalny claimed Putin was responsible for the attempt on his life.
“I claim that Putin was behind the crime, and I have no other version of what happened,” he said.
Bosnia: Icy struggle for many migrants stuck in freezing tents
Thousands of refugees and migrants urgently need proper shelter in Bosnia-Herzegovina after weeks outdoors in freezing cold, the UN has warned.
Some 2,500 people are in unheated tents or sleeping rough near the northern town of Bihac. A UN official says some are now being moved to heated tents.
Local authorities have refused to reopen a nearby reception centre.
Instead hundreds have been forced to return to a temporary camp that was ravaged by fire last month.
Peter Van der Auweraert of the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has tweeted photos of the basic tents erected at the Lipa camp by the Bosnian army a few days ago.
But his latest post is upbeat. Lipa is carpeted with heavy snow, he says, so the relocation of migrants to heated tents, now under way, is an “important step forward”. The new tents were brought in by the army.
The camp was set up hastily in the summer when the coronavirus pandemic forced crisis measures including border closures.
But aid agencies pulled out of the camp in December, saying it was unsustainable without water and electricity.
Some residents forced to leave the facility looted equipment and set fire to tents, police said.
However, about 900 migrants had to go back there, after local officials refused to let them move to the empty reception centre in Bihac. Another 1,500 are struggling in primitive conditions elsewhere near the town.
The migrants are from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and got stuck in Bosnia while trying to reach Croatia, an EU member state seen as a gateway to the EU.
Some of the migrants have refused to use the tents in Lipa because they lack heating and sanitation. Some also went on hunger strike, angry at the lack of amenities.
But on Tuesday many did receive Red Cross food parcels.
“We want people in proper reception centres where they have access to services, like the 6,000 other people in Bosnia,” Mr Van der Auweraert, the IOM’s head in Bosnia-Herzegovina, told the BBC’s Balkans correspondent Guy De Launey at Lipa.
The IOM says about 8,500 non-EU migrants are living in Bosnia, still hoping to get to northern Europe.
“Here is too much cold. You know, the weather is rainy and the weather is very cold, and we can’t sleep in here,” one migrant told our correspondent.
In recent years thousands of people, including refugees from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria, have entered Bosnia hoping to get asylum in the EU.
Bosnia’s central government ordered the reopening of a reception centre in an old factory on the outskirts of Bihac, but the local authorities refused.
The city’s mayor, Suhret Fazlic, told the BBC: “We are not satisfied with approach of EU – people coming from Greece and Bulgaria want to get to Croatia, but stuck in Bihac.”
The EU has told the Bosnian authorities that they “must assume their responsibilities”. The country of 3.5m has ambitions to join the EU.
On Wednesday the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the EU had funded the still empty shelter in Bihac, but Bosnian officials had “ignored repeated appeals to provide basic and secure living conditions and humane treatment”.
His spokesman Peter Stano said “over the last two years, we provided over 90m euros (£81m; $110m) for centres, equipment, medical and social care.
“We need them to move – not play political games with people’s lives,” he complained.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55589090
Covid: Sweden official defends Christmas trip to Canary Islands
A top Swedish official involved in the coronavirus response has defended a Christmas holiday in the Canary Islands in the face of heavy criticism.
Dan Eliasson is head of the civil contingencies agency, which earlier in December had texted all Swedes urging them to avoid travel.
He was photographed in Las Palmas airport on the island of Gran Canaria.
Mr Eliasson insisted the trip was necessary “for family reasons”.
He told Swedish media that he had “given up a lot of trips during this pandemic” but thought this one was necessary because he had a daughter living in the Canaries.
“I celebrated Christmas with her and my family,” he told Expressen newspaper. He also said he had been worked remotely while in the Canaries.
Sweden has had 437,000 confirmed cases and 8,700 deaths – many more than its Scandinavian neighbours. The country has never imposed a full lockdown.
However, alarmed by rising numbers of cases last month, the Swedish government reversed some of its guidance and sent a text message to all Swedes asking them to read updated guidelines.
The guidelines included asking Swedes to avoid unnecessary trips and not to make new contacts during a journey or at the destination.
Mr Eliasson was then photographed several times in Gran Canaria, including at the airport.
There have been calls for Mr Eliasson, an experienced official who has worked at several important departments, to be fired.
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and other ministers have not yet commented, according to Swedish media.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55523587
UK regulator approves Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine
UK regulators have approved the use of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to distribute than some rivals and could in time offer a route out of the pandemic for large parts of the world.