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Putin and Trump at G20 summit in Japan in 2019. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent a letter to President Trump on Tuesday requesting an investigation into the alleged poisoning of Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader and leading critic of President Vladimir Putin.

Why it matters: Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas) note that U.S. law requires the administration to determine within 60 days whether an accused country has used chemical weapons in violation of international law. If this is the case, U.S. sanctions must be imposed.

The big picture: The Trump administration previously slapped sanctions on Russia under the same Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 after determining that the Kremlin used a nerve agent to target former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal on British soil.

The other side: Trump told reporters last Friday he doesn't "know exactly what happened" to Navalny, despite the German government's assessment that the poisoning was conducted with Novichok — the same agent used to target Skripal.

  • "We have not had any proof yet, but we will take a look. ... I would be very angry if that is the case." Trump said Friday of the German government's analysis.
  • World leaders including U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg have condemned the attack and demanded an independent investigation.

What they're saying: "The poisoning of Mr. Navalny is particularly disturbing given that a Novichok agent was also used in a March 2018 attack on former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England," Engel and McCaul wrote.

  • "Those responsible for this despicable attack must be held accountable, and Russian President Vladimir Putin must know that he and his cronies will not be allowed to violate international law with impunity."

Go deeper

Dec 14, 2020 - World

U.S. sanctions Turkey for purchasing Russian defense system in 2017

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. has imposed sanctions against Turkey for purchasing the Russian S-400 air defense system in 2017, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday.

Why it matters: The sanctions are likely to heighten tensions between the two NATO allies just as President-elect Joe Biden, who has called President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan an "autocrat," is set to take office.

19 mins ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.

More surprises await scientists at Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier"

Cliffs along the edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Photo: James Yungel/NASA

Researchers like David Holland, an atmospheric scientist at New York University, are in a race to understand the fate of a massive glacier in West Antarctica that has earned a disquieting nickname: "The Doomsday Glacier."

Why it matters: Studies show the Thwaites Glacier (its official name) could already be on an irreversible course to melt during the next several decades to centuries, freeing up enough inland ice to raise global sea levels by at least several feet.