Moscow has decried United States sanctions imposed for the alleged poisoning of opposition leader Alexey Navalny as a “hostile anti-Russian lunge”.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement late on Tuesday that Moscow would react to the sanctions, which were announced earlier in the day, with “reciprocity and not necessarily symmetrically”.
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She accused the US of “trying to cultivate the image of an external enemy” as a way to distract attention from domestic problems.
She added: “We urge our colleagues not to play with fire”.
The statements echoed those made on Tuesday by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, who said Moscow would respond to the US penalties.
The US sanctions against 14 entities and seven senior Russian officials, which were done in coordination with the European Union, marks President Joe Biden’s most direct challenge to the Kremlin since taking office.
Navalny, 44, fell ill on a flight in Siberia in August and was airlifted to Germany, where doctors concluded he had been poisoned with a nerve agent. The Kremlin has denied any role in his illness and said it has seen no proof he was poisoned.
The opposition leader defiantly returned to Moscow in January but was immediately arrested and convicted on parole violations on what he says were politically motivated charges. His arrest sparked widespread protests in Russia.
“The [US] intelligence community assesses with high confidence that officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) used a nerve agent to poison Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Tuesday while discussing the sanctions.
The administration has framed the sanctions as part of a shift towards a more confrontational approach to Russia compared with that of former President Donald Trump.
While the previous administration imposed sanctions on Moscow after determining that Russia had used a nerve agent on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the United Kingdom, Trump was widely been criticised for not publicly taking a harder line against Putin.
On Monday, Navalny was transferred to a notoriously harsh penal colony outside of Moscow, in what critics have said is an attempt to psychologically break him.