EU hints sanction over Russia crackdown on protests

Capitals are eyeing using the EU’s new human rights sanctions regime for the first time to hit individuals responsible for the clampdown with asset freezes and visa bans

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BRUSSELS: EU foreign ministers are expected to give the go-ahead Monday to sanctions on Russia over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and a crackdown on protests.

The top diplomats from the 27-nation bloc meet in Brussels for talks that will also include a wide-ranging videoconference with new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The move to target the Kremlin comes two weeks after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was caught in a diplomatic ambush in Moscow that enraged member states.

Capitals are eyeing using the EU’s new human rights sanctions regime for the first time to hit individuals responsible for the clampdown with asset freezes and visa bans, diplomats said.

“I expect a political agreement to be reached,” a senior European diplomat told AFP.

“Then experts from the member states should work on the names.”

The mood toward Moscow has hardened in the wake of Borrell’s disastrous trip to Russia, during which Moscow announced it was expelling three European diplomats and rebuffed talk of cooperation.

“They rejected out of hand any dialogue that was proposed,” a senior EU official said.

The EU has already hit Russia with waves of sanctions over the 2014 annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s fueling of the war in Ukraine.

The bloc in October slapped six officials on a blacklist over the poisoning of Navalny with Novichok, a nerve agent.

President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic critic was this month jailed for almost three years after returning to Russia following treatment in Germany.

His sentencing sparked nationwide protests that saw baton-wielding security forces detain thousands.

Two of Navalny’s closest allies are set to meet with a dozen EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Sunday to push for sanctions targeting high-profile oligarchs they accuse of funding Putin’s regime.

But diplomats say any measures have to be tied directly to abuses and need to stand up to challenges in court.

While European countries appear to be readying a common front against the Kremlin they are also keen to allow for cooperation on efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal after former US leader Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.

The EU is currently looking to broker a meeting between Washington, Tehran and other signatories — including Moscow — to try to work out how to salvage the 2015 accord.

 

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