OTTAWA — The chief of staff to Alexei Navalny, the imprisoned critic of the Russian president, is calling on Ottawa to impose new sanctions on those who he described as "Vladimir Putin's oligarchs."
Leonid Volkov told members of a parliamentary committee that freezing the assets of Putin's friends would put pressure on the Russian president.
"Every time Europe or (the United States) try to build bridges, to compromise, to build a dialogue, unfortunately, Putin, in his psychology, considers it to be just a sign of weakness," Volkov said.
"The personal sanctions against Putin's oligarchs are important to win leverage against him to build a strong position."
Volkov said Putin was personally offended by Navalny's investigation into a luxurious palace he was building, so he ordered his agents to poison the critic in August 2020.
"For Putin, really, money, like gold and red carpets, is the most important thing in the world," Volkov said.
He said Navalny was arrested in the airport on Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from the poisoning, and he has been in prison since then.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau announced sanctions against nine Russian officials in March to put pressure on senior figures in the government involved in Navalny's poisoning, his subsequent prosecution, and the silencing of citizens who protested his treatment.
Volkov said it's important that Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States have recently imposed personal sanctions on Russian officials and didn't put in place new economic sanctions on the country.
Sanctions on the Russian economy allow the Kremlin to spread misinformation and blame the country's economic decline on western sanctions, he said.
"Like, 'Why has the household income of the average household in Russia decreased for eight years in a row? Because of the evil West, because of NATO, because of the U.S., because they're trying to kill our economy with sanctions,' " he said.
Personal sanctions on leaders and friends of Putin are efficient and don't allow the government to spread misinformation, he said.
"Propaganda can't sell them as being sanctions against Russia."
However, Volkov said Canada's list of nine sanctioned Russian officials was "weak" because although it included officials who are responsible for poisoning Navalny, they don't travel abroad and they don't have assets abroad.
Volkov said he is ready to provide the parliamentary foreign affairs committee with a list of 35 names of Putin's close friends who hold his assets.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press