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.
Senior diplomats from the 27-nation group met in Brussels for talks, which will also include an extensive video conference with the new US Secretary of State Anthony Brinken.
The move to target the Kremlin came two weeks after Josep Borrell, the head of EU foreign policy, fell into a diplomatic ambush in Moscow that angered member states.
Diplomats said that for the first time, capitals are considering using the EU’s new human rights sanctions regime to combat those responsible for asset freezes and visa bans.
“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 European Union has already imposed waves of sanctions due to the 2014 annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s refueling of the war against Ukraine.
In October, the European Union blacklisted six officials.
Navalny was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok.
President Putin’s most famous domestic critic returned to Russia after receiving treatment in Germany and was jailed for nearly three years this month.
His sentence triggered a nationwide protest, and security forces wielding batons detained thousands.
Navalny’s two closest allies are scheduled to meet with twelve EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Sunday to push for sanctions against the prominent oligarchs they accused of funding Putin’s regime.
But diplomats say that any measure must be directly linked to abuse and must be challenged in court.
Although European countries appear to be prepared to deal with the Kremlin’s common front, they are also eager to cooperate in efforts to restore the Iran nuclear agreement after the withdrawal of former US leader Donald Trump in 2018.
The European Union is currently seeking meetings between Washington, Tehran and other signatories (including Moscow) to try to figure out how to save the 2015 agreement.
Russia’s repression is not the only issue to be resolved at this meeting.
A military coup and response to the increasingly deadly crackdown on protesters in Myanmar, as well as measures for the controversial election in Venezuela last year, will be on the agenda.
Senior EU officials said that ministers are expected to take action to sanction Myanmar military officers and blacklist Venezuelan officials.
When Blinken, the top US diplomat, joins the first formal meeting with the European Union, the focus will shift to cooperation, and all parties want to leave behind the tensions of the Trump era.
The discussion may range from a joint approach, to common opponents like Russia and China, to the urgent issue of the Iran agreement.
It is expected that all 27 ministers will speak out about the expectations of US President Joe Biden, while addressing the climate crisis and pandemic issues will be broader.
Biden announced on Friday that “the Transatlantic Alliance is back” in a speech that sought to re-establish the United States as a Western leader against what he called a global democratic attack.