BRUSSELS – European Union foreign ministers imposed sanctions on Monday against four Russian military intelligence officials, including the two men the British government have accused of poisoning a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury last year.
The decision on Monday, which was denounced by the Kremlin, is the first time the EU has imposed sanctions under its new chemical weapons response regime, which is part of a broader EU effort to stave off hybrid threats from Russia and beyond.
In September, British authorities charged two men with the attempted poisoning of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Both survived the attack which UK Prime Minister Theresa May said was almost certainly authorized at a “senior level” of the Russian state.
The men were named by British authorities as GRU officers Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. At the time, President Vladimir Putin said the two men were civilians and that they were not involved in any criminal behavior.
On Monday, the EU sanctioned Petrov and Boshirov, listing their real names as Alexander Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga respectively. The EU also imposed sanctions on the head of the GRU Igor Kostyukov and his deputy Vladimir Alexseyev.
The bloc also imposed sanctions on Monday against five Syrians and Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre, which European officials says a central role in the Assad regime’s chemical weapons program.
“The UK has been at the vanguard of this EU action,” UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Monday. “We will continue to show our willingness to stand up for the international rules that keep us safe, and which the Kremlin and the Assad regime seek to undermine.”
The EU has already imposed economic sanctions on Russia and targeted more than 160 people and 44 entities over what the bloc considers to be Russia’s interference and intervention in Ukraine. After the Salisbury attack, a sweep of European countries, the US and Canada expelled Russian diplomats over the attack.
It has also imposed sanctions on 270 persons and 72 entities connected to the Assad regime since the conflict in Syria started in 2011.
Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that Moscow believed the EU sanctions were groundless.
“Our reaction is negative,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. “No evidence has been provided.”