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Secretary of State Antony Blinken has signaled to European allies that the transatlantic powers should move in concert to punish Russia’s abuse of imprisoned dissident Alexei Navalny, according to a top European Union official amid a report the Biden administration is preparing new economic penalties of its own.

“Blinken asked us to coordinate our actions against Russia for the Navalny case,” EU high representative Josep Borrell told the Atlantic Council during a Tuesday event.

European officials agreed on Monday to impose sanctions on a handful of Russian officials implicated in the “persecution,” as Borrell put it, of the poison survivor and anti-corruption activist whose reports on corruption allegations centered on Russian President Vladimir Putin won him the Kremlin’s enmity. Blinken participated in the EU virtual conference meeting Monday as the Biden team prepares additionally to punish Moscow for a recent cyberattack that staggered U.S. and allied intelligence officials when it was discovered last year.

“We are still in the process of working through that now, but it will be weeks, not months before we respond,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday.

MACRON: PUTIN'S TARGETING OF NAVALNY 'A HUGE MISTAKE' FOR RUSSIAN STABILITY

Russian officials, fresh off a public relations victory in Moscow at Borrell’s expense, derided the EU sanctions threat as an operation of “bloc school of thought and anti-Russian stereotypes.” U.S. and European powers have laws that authorize the imposition of sanctions on perpetrators of human rights abuses, but Russian officials maintain that Navalny’s conviction for violating the terms of his probation is of no concern to Western officials.

“We consider categorically unacceptable the constant unlawful and absurd demands for the ‘release’ of a citizen of the Russian Federation who was convicted of economic crimes by a Russian court on the territory of our country in accordance with Russian law,” the Russian foreign ministry said Monday. “In international practice, this is called interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.”

Navalny’s admittedly “harsh" conviction rested on the fact that he failed to notify Russian authorities or “provide documents and provide proper explanations” for why he didn’t check in with Russian probation officers last fall pursuant to the terms of his probation. Navalny, during the months in question, was recovering in Germany from a chemical weapons attack widely regard as carried out by Russian security services.

“I was in a coma,” Navalny reminded the court. “Then I was in intensive care. I provided medical documents. You had my place of residence and contact information.”

Navalny urged Western officials to retaliate by sanctioning Russian oligarchs in Putin’s inner circle, but Borrell rejected this proposal as impractical, given the potential for sanctioned individuals to challenge the decision in court.

“So we can not punish people just because we don't like them, we have to punish people because we have proofs and strong awareness that they have been participating in the things that we reject,” Borrell said Tuesday. “And sorry — it’s not so easy to establish a relationship between the oligarchs, even if they are very rich ... and the persecution of Navalny.”

That decision was a disappointment for some European allies, particularly in the post-Soviet space, where memories of Moscow’s aggression and human rights abuses still burn. These Russia hawks argue that U.S. and European officials could use the occasion of Navalny’s persecution to punish various oligarchs for other crimes.

“It's not very strong, but it's still better than nothing,” a European diplomat said of the more limited sanctions measures before expressing hope that the “U.S. response … will be much firmer and more direct and more impactful.”

Biden has stirred some trepidation among Central European allies who see initial signs that he might not impose stiff sanctions on a controversial Russian energy pipeline, but the American president is expected to slap Russia with an array of punitive measures related to the Navalny case and the recently-discovered SolarWinds hack, which has been described as one of the most alarming breaches in the history of state-sponsored cyberattacks.

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That American response will be predicated on the assessment that the recent Russian attack was “‘indiscriminate' and potentially ‘disruptive,’” according to a Washington Post report that suggests U.S. officials plan to argue that the Russian hack is unlike anything carried out by American spy agencies.

“We have asked the intelligence community to do further work to sharpen the attribution that the previous administration made about precisely how the hack occurred, what the extent of the damage is, and what the scope and scale of the intrusion is,” Psaki said of the hack. “Of course, we want to focus on giving our team the time they need to take additional steps to fine-tune the attribution, and we reserve the right to respond at the time and a manner of our choosing.”

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Extra-time winner lightens mood as Barcelona reach Spanish Cup final

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Barcelona needed extra-time to reach the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday, with a 3-2 aggregate win over Sevilla coming just two days after a police raid on the club and the arrest of their former president.

© Josep LAGO Saved at the death: Barcelona players celebrate Gerard Pique's injury time goal

Having trailed 2-0 from the first leg, Danish international Martin Braithwaite hit the crucial goal in the fifth minute of extra-time with a diving header off a Jordi Alba cross.

Gerard Pique had equalised in the fourth minute of stoppage time with virtually the last play of the game to save Barca.

The veteran international headed in at the near post after a fine cross from Antoine Griezmann.

That was after Ousmane Dembele, who scored in the 2-0 win at Sevilla in La Liga at the weekend, had given the 30-time Spanish Cup winners a 12th-minute lead in the second leg with a right-foot drive from outside the area.

Sevilla could have killed the game off in the 73rd minute to deny Barca their place in the final for a 42nd time.

They were awarded a penalty when Lucas Ocampos was brought down by Oscar Mingueza.

However, Ocampos saw his tame right-foot effort from the spot saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Flagging Sevilla were then reduced to 10 men in injury time when Brazilian Fernando was red-carded for a foul on Francisco Trincao.

"The team deserved to qualify," said Barca coach Ronald Koeman.

"For their work and honesty. We are more aggressive, we've always created chances, the team has improved enormously. 

"This is a very important result for the club, for the players, and for me of course as well. This is an important step in earning a title."   

It was a much-needed win for Barcelona after former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, current chief executive Oscar Grau, head of legal services Roma Gomez Ponti and Bartomeu's advisor Jaume Masferrer were arrested by Catalan police, who searched the club's offices on Monday morning.

They were all questioned in relation to last year's "Barcagate" scandal.

The club holds its presidential elections later this week.

The search of Barcelona's stadium was part of a probe into allegations the club carried out a defamation campaign against current and former players who were critical of Bartomeu.

Spanish radio station Cadena Ser claimed in February 2020 that Barca covered up inflated payments to a company called I3 Ventures which it had hired to boost the image of the club on social media.

Part of the social media campaign included criticising current and former players like Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez, and iconic coach Pep Guardiola.

Barcelona will face either Athletic Bilbao or Levante, who are 1-1 in their semi-final, in the final on April 17 in Seville.

Before that, however, Barcelona will attempt another comeback effort when they take on Paris Saint-Germain in the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie next week.

Barca trail 4-1 from the first leg.

Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui admitted Wednesday's defeat was a "bitter pill to swallow".

"We are disappointed and sad to be deprived of a final.

"We experienced the most crushing feeling in football, conceding with the last kick of the game (in normal time)."

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