European Union (EU) foreign ministers are expected to trigger new punitive measures on Russia on Monday following the sentencing of dissident Alexei Navalny, triggering tensions with Moscow.
“It is clear that Russia is on a confrontational course with the European Union,’’ EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said before talks with the 27 ministers in Brussels.
If an agreement in principle is struck, as diplomatic sources say is likely, the legal framework and targets, for example, Russian government officials for travel bans or asset freezes could be worked out in the coming weeks.
A number of ministers voiced support for the measures before the meeting.
“I am in favour of giving the order to prepare sanctions, listings of individual people,’’ German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters on the way into talks.
After surviving a nerve agent poison attack and receiving treatment in Germany, Navalny, a vocal opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin returned to Russia in mid-January and was immediately arrested.
He has since been sentenced to prison for violating parole terms linked to a 2014 fraud conviction, which itself was found to be arbitrary by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The EU which claims the charges against Navalny are politically motivated has been calling for him to be freed to no avail.
Meanwhile, a wave of pro-Navalny protests in Russia has resulted in thousands of arrests.
Together with developments in Belarus, the anti-corruption campaigner’s case is the latest flashpoint in EU-Russian relations.
The bloc already applied sanctions for Moscow’s role in the Ukraine conflict, as well as for the anti-corruption campaigner’s poisoning.
However, “we must look for ways to stay in dialogue with Moscow.
“We need Russia to resolve many international conflicts,’’ Maas said on Monday.
In spite of the relations reaching a low point, in the words of the top German diplomat, the EU depends on Russia’s cooperation for issues like the Iran nuclear deal.
In comments to Germany’s Welt newspaper on Monday, Russia’s EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov warned that Moscow would be prepared to respond should the EU choose to move on new sanctions.