EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday came to the conclusion that Russia is not interested in cooperating with the European Union and that the Russian authorities are leading the country towards authoritarianism. The conclusions were voiced by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell after a meeting devoted to possible reactions to Russia’s persecution of oppositionist Alexei Navalny and the violent crackdown on protests by his supporters.
#Russia: unity is our greatest asset.
Reached political agreement to impose sanctions over case of Mr Navalny. Will make use of right of initiative, using for first time Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime.
Work to continue along three main lines: Push back – contain – engage. pic.twitter.com/dJ4Zv2opXH
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) February 22, 2021
Borrell said that in the case of Navalny, the EU will use a recently created mechanism similar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act to impose sanctions on human rights abuses.
According to Borrell, the EU will be guided by three principles in its cooperation with Russia: fighting back when Moscow violates international law and human rights, deterring when Russia increases pressure on the EU, and cooperating with Russia on issues in which the EU is interested. The EU foreign policy chief underscored that the EU would expand its support for civil society in Russia. At the same time, he said that the EU is not looking for a confrontation with “a neighbor that has decided to behave like an enemy.
Borrell also explained why the sanctions list will not include the names of major Russian businessmen close to the Kremlin, the so-called oligarchs. According to him, there are no legal grounds for this. Navalny’s associates have called for sanctions against the oligarchs. One of them, Ivan Zhdanov, acknowledged on Ekho Moskvy that such sanctions could be challenged in arbitration, and the oligarchs could get them lifted.
Leonid Volkov, head of the Navalny campaign network, describes the EU decision as a success: “Sanctions were approved for part of our list – which means that all the other people on it can hardly sleep, knowing that now they’ve avoided getting on that list – literally by a thread. It means that they will go to Putin to ask or demand that he no longer do something that would increase their risks – and that means that we have created serious political pressure on Putin,” he wrote.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also spoke to EU foreign ministers via video link the previous day. The State Department statement stressed that Blinken “welcomed the EU decision to impose sanctions” in connection with the actions of the Russian authorities against Navalny and his supporters.