While the Navalny case was a vivid example of Russian brutality – his FSB attackers chased him while he was traveling around Europe and apparently putting the nerve agent on his underwear – the Biden administration sees SolarWinds as a more direct attack on the United States. Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor, said the answer was “not simply a sanction,” and also suggested an undercover answer.

In the Navalny case, however, only sanctions were announced – and they could have little effect. History shows that sanctions, if at all, work better on smaller, less powerful nations, and then only over time. They are often used to signal disapproval without expecting change in behavior.

Carl Bildt, former Swedish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, said: “Sanctions have become very popular in Congress, and they are becoming popular in the EU too. If you don’t have other tools, sanctions are very popular. “

In 2018, the Trump administration announced sanctions against Russia for using a nerve agent against Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent living in Russia, and his daughter Yulia, and evicted dozens of Russian diplomats. However, this proved little deterrent for the FSB, which used the same technique against Mr Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian dissident who was poisoned in 2015 and 2017 and nearly died on both occasions.

A senior American official said the action announced on Tuesday overtook in many ways the designations already made by Europeans. The official said the main effort is to ensure that the United States and Europe are “on one side” after several months of European sanctions going beyond those imposed by Washington.

The European Union on Monday approved sanctions against four senior Russian officials responsible for the prosecution and detention of Mr Navalny.

The decision, approved by member states, went into effect on Tuesday and is the first time the European Union has used new powers under its Magnitsky Act that allow Brussels to impose sanctions on human rights abusers around the world.