The foreign ministers from EU member states met in Brussels on Monday morning to discuss the possibility of imposing further sanctions against Russia after a crackdown on supporters of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
The meeting will also include a video conference with new US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
European diplomats plan to impose asset freezes and visa bans on individuals responsible for repressive measures against protesters and Navalny himself.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas spoke to the press before the meeting expressing his support for sanctions and keeping channels of dialogue with Russia open.
“I support the order to prepare additional sanctions, a list of specific people,” said Maas upon his arrival to the talks.
“At the same time we need to talk about how to maintain a constructive dialogue with Russia, even if relations have definitely bottomed out,” he added.
The European Union and Russia are on a collision course
Eight EU foreign ministers, as well as several EU ambassadors, met with two of Navalny’s close allies on Sunday evening ahead of the talks. One of his allies, Leonid Volkov, told AFP news agency that meeting attendees had “spoken of targeted personal sanctions against Putin’s closest allies and people guilty of gross human rights violations.”
Gabrielius Landsbergis, minister of foreign affairs Lithuania, which organized the discussions on Sunday, said “the greatest hopes for [Monday] is that we will make a unanimous decision on the list of “to be sanctioned.”
Relations between Russia and the EU continue to collapse despite a visit by EU foreign police chief Josep Borrell to Moscow, widely considered a disaster.
Borrell himself admitted before Monday’s meeting, saying: “It is clear that Russia is on a confrontational path with the European Union.”
European Union years of sanctions against Russia
The European Union sanctioned a number of individuals, including a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in October after the poisoning of critics of the Navalny government with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. Russia responded with its own individual sanctions, including expulsion of three EU diplomats announced during Borrell’s journey.
Russia has been hit with sanctions following the annexation of Crimea and its support for rebels in Ukraine.
But Russia also witnessed a wave of protests after police arrested Navalny on his return to the country after being treated for poisoning in Germany. The political activist was sentenced to nearly three years in prison. That European Court of Human Rights decided that Navalny’s sentence broke the law.
ab / rc (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)