While the Navalny case was a vivid example of Russian brutality — his F.S.B. attackers stalked him as he traveled across Europe and apparently applied the nerve agent to his underwear — the Biden administration sees SolarWinds as a more direct attack on the United States. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said the response “will not simply be sanctions” and hinted at some kind of covert response as well.
But in the Navalny case, only sanctions were announced — and they might have little effect. History suggests that sanctions work better, if at all, on smaller, less powerful nations, and then only over time. They are often used to signal disapproval without much expectation of changed behavior.
As Carl Bildt, the former prime minister and foreign minister of Sweden, said: “Sanctions have become very popular in Congress, and they’re becoming popular with the E.U., too. If you don’t have any other instruments, sanctions are very popular.”
In 2018, the Trump administration announced sanctions against Russia for the use of a nerve agent against Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent living in Britain, and his daughter, Yulia, and expelled dozens of Russian diplomats. But that proved little deterrent to the F.S.B. using the same technique against Mr. Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian dissident who was poisoned, in 2015 and 2017, and nearly died both times.
A senior American official said that the action announced on Tuesday was in many ways catching up to designations that the Europeans had already made. The official said the main effort was to assure that the United States and Europe were “on the same page” after several months in which European sanctions went beyond any imposed by Washington.
The European Union on Monday approved sanctions on four senior Russian officials considered responsible for the prosecution and imprisonment of Mr. Navalny.
The decision, approved by the member states, went into effect on Tuesday and represents the first time the European Union has used new powers under its version of the Magnitsky Act, which allows Brussels to impose sanctions on human rights violators worldwide.