EU to consider new sanctions on Russia over Navalny

Foreign ministers could take an initial decision on any restrictive measures when they meet on 22 February

Photo: EPA Peter Stano

The EU is already working on a proposal to sanction Russia over the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, news wires reported. EU ambassadors discussed the punitive measures at a meeting on Wednesday, according to two diplomats familiar with the discussion.

European Commission spokesman Peter Stano declined to comment on the discussions, but added that “work is ongoing” on several possible actions. EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell said on Tuesday that the EU’s next steps could include sanctions and that he would “put forward concrete proposals.” After returning from Moscow, Borrell said that “Europe and Russia are drifting apart.”

The EU is likely to impose travel bans and asset freezes on allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin after France and Germany signalled their willingness to move ahead, three diplomats said cited by Reuters. The sanctions could be the first to be imposed under a new framework enacted in December, which allows the EU to take measures against human rights violators worldwide.

“We can’t avoid sanctions anymore,” said a European diplomat. “There is a consensus including in Germany to have sanctions. We can’t respond in any other way.” Germany has been vocal in support of Navalny, who was treated there for what Berlin says was poisoning by a Soviet-era nerve agent. But it also has close energy links to Russia.

The EU already imposed economic sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Last year it imposed travel bans and asset freezes on six Russian officials close to Putin over Navalny’s poisoning. Moscow has denied blame for Navalny’s illness and says it has seen no proof he was poisoned.

The Wednesday sanction discussion comes after Borrell weathered intense criticism over a humiliating trip to Moscow last week, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used a joint press conference to disparage the bloc, criticising the EU as an unreliable partner. Russia simultaneously announced that it would expel diplomats from Poland, Germany and Sweden for their “recorded participation” in protests against the imprisonment of Navalny.

At Wednesday’s meeting, at least 10 ambassadors expressed their disappointment at how Borrell’s visit went, according to a diplomatic note seen by Bloomberg. Most of them welcomed that the discussion was shifting to tangible action, including sanctions. The note added that the EU’s foreign ministers could take an initial decision on any restrictive measures when they meet on 22 February. The EU’s 27 leaders will also be discussing relations with Russia next month.

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