WASHINGTON – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s team hit Capitol Hill on Thursday, urging a fresh round of sanctions over the war in Ukraine that moves beyond wealthy oligarchs to spread the financial pain to Russian government officials, mid-level politicians and public figures.
The group is discussing with senators a list of 6,000 people for possible sanctions, including Russian defense and security officials, administrative employees, governors, members of parliament, even editors and managers at state-aligned media operations.
Vladimir Ashurkov, the executive director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said Thursday the “avalanche of sanctions” so far from the West is having an effect in Russia. But the group is seeking to reach beyond the wealthy allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin to focus on lower-level figures who potentially coud be more swayed by the financial strain.
“Let’s bring on, or at least announce, the next wave,” Ashurkov said in an interview with journalists.
While sanctions are not “silver bullets” that will stop the war, he said, “it’s one of the few instruments available to the Western countries to affect what’s going on.”
The push from Navalny's allies this week in Washington came as Congress gave final passage to $40 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Ukrainians battling the Russian invasion, the most significant war in Europe since World War II.
Support for Ukraine is showing signs of strain in Congress, where Republicans are growing weary of emergency spending that will soon total $53 billion since Russia invaded in February. The administration is considering next steps as Western allies seek to expand the NATO military alliance with Sweden and Finland and confront the deepening assault from Putin's Russia.
The list of new sanctions was an idea from Navalny himself, said another official involved with his group. The charismatic opposition leader has been jailed since his 2021 return to Russia after being poisoned and is considered among Putin’s most powerful critics. “Navalny” is an award-winning documentary of the Russian politician recently released in U.S. theaters.
Despite his imprisonment, Navalny remains “very much operational,” said Anna Veduta, the foundation's vice president.
One argument the group is making to the senators, particularly the Republicans, is that unlike the hard costs of military equipment like anti-tank Javelin missiles or tanks for the Ukrainian fighters, sanctions to curtail Russia do not have a direct cost to the treasury or U.S. taxpayers.
The group also said that earlier efforts, including the decisions by credit-card giants Visa and MasterCard to suspend Russian operations, have had some detrimental impacts on Russians abroad or in exile.
“We believe the sanctions policy has to be more nuanced,” Ashurkov said.
The group said it met with Sens. Jim Risch of Idaho, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Marco Rubio of Florida and others. The group is also planning to meet with administration officials at the State Department, Justice and other offices in Washington.
Risch tweeted Wednesday, “It was an honor to meet” with Leonid Volkov, who is Navalny's chief of staff.
Rubio's office also tweeted about the senator's meeting with Volkov.
Held in prison in Russia, Navalny is visited by his lawyers daily on weekdays and they are able to print out internet stories for him to read the latest developments. He is able to convey what he's thinking, Veduta said.
“He’s very strong and he is working a lot,” she said.
Navalny recently issued a long Twitter thread about the need for U.S. tech platforms including Google and Facebook to free up restrictions on advertising in Russia so opposition leaders can get their voices out and counter the state-aligned messaging apparatus.
He urged President Joe Biden and other Western leaders “to urgently find a solution to crush Putin’s propaganda using the advertising power of social media.”
“Even if such advertising is bought for the full commercial price, its cost will be laughable compared to the price of this war,” Navalny wrote on Twitter.
“One shot from Javelin costs $230,000. For the same money we would get 200 million ad views in different formats and provide at least 300,000 link clicks or at least 8 million views on a video with the truth about what is happening in Ukraine.”
Navalny is about to be moved to a maximum-security prison where he will be more restricted, Veduta said.
“But he’s not going to give up and he will never give up, of course, and he’s calling against the war since day one,” she said. “He was the one of the first people to say that: We should not be against the war, we should fight against the war. And he calls on our partners here and in Europe during this fight.”