EU foreign ministers on Monday agreed to prepare sanctions on four seniorRussian officials in a mainly symbolic response to the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, according to EU diplomats.
The decision followed a meeting of ministers from the 27-nation bloc in Brussels that included a wide-ranging videoconference with new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The political agreement was reached after France, Germany, Poland and the Baltic states urged the bloc to send a message to President Vladimir Putin that debate and protest must be allowed in Russia.
The ministers asked foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to finalise the list of names of individuals to be targeted, but no oligarchs would be included, a senior diplomat told AFP.
The head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, which handles probes into major crimes, the director of prisons, the director of Russia’s National Guard as well as the prosecutor general were among the officials likely to be targeted with travel bans and asset freezes, a diplomat told Reuters.
Despite calls by Navalny’s closest aides for the EU to target members of Russia’s business elite close to Putin, EU governments have argued in favour of targeting senior officials because such sanctions can better withstand legal challenges.
Navalny was detained after returning to Russia from Germany last month and jailed on February 2 for violating the terms of parole on what he says was a politically motivated conviction.
The Russian opposition figure had been recovering in Germany after being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent and has accused the Kremlin of trying to kill him, a charge Moscow denies.
Russia accuses the EU of meddling in its affairs.
The EU decision came weeks after Russia expelled diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden during a visit by Borrell to Moscow.
Russia said the diplomats were expelled for participating in “unauthorised demonstrations” in support of Navalny. But the expulsion order, during a visit by the top EU diplomat, outraged European leaders and triggered tit-for-tat measures in Germany, Poland and Sweden.