BERLIN (Reuters) – The European Union should punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and thousands of his supporters with targeted financial sanctions, the leader of the bloc’s biggest political alliance said on Sunday.
Police detained more than 3,000 people and used force to disperse rallies across Russia on Saturday in support of Navalny, who was arrested last weekend when he returned to Russia from Germany for the first time since he was poisoned with a nerve agent.
“It is unacceptable that the Russian leadership is trying to shorten the growing protests by arresting thousands of demonstrators,” Manfred Weber, a senior German conservative and head of the center-right EPP group in the European Union Parliament, told German newspaper group RND. .
“EU foreign ministers are not allowed to avoid this once again and stop at general pleas,” said Weber.
“The European Union has to hit where it hurts the Putin system – and that’s the money,” Weber said. Therefore, the EU must cut financial transactions from Putin’s inner circle, he added.
Moreover, the threat to stop the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is meant to double shipments of natural gas from Russia to Germany, must remain on the table, Weber added.
A German government spokesman declined to comment when asked if Berlin was willing to support new sanctions against Russia following Navalny’s arrest.
EU lawmakers passed a resolution on Thursday calling for the bloc to stop the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in response to Navalny’s arrest.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who continues to support the project despite criticism elsewhere in the EU, said on Thursday that her view of the project has not changed despite the Navalny case.
The United States, EU and Britain all condemned Russia’s handling of security forces against Saturday’s protests, and the French and Italian foreign ministers on Sunday both expressed support for sanctions.
Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Edited by Alex Richardson
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