Navalny case: EU moves to further sanctions, saying Russia drifting toward authoritarian state

European Union foreign ministers have agreed to work on further restrictive measures against figures in Russia responsible for the arrest, sentencing and persecution of Alexei Navalny, it emerged from a statement after a meeting on February 22.

The move to further sanctions is a response to serious violations of human rights in Russia, a statement after the meeting said.

“In response to the events around the situation of Mr.Navalny we reached a political agreement to impose restrictive measures against those responsible for his arrest, sentencing and persecution,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

“For the first time ever we will make use of the EU Global Human Rights Regime to this end,” Borrell said, referring to the bloc’s equivalent to the Magnitsky Act.

Navalny, an outspoken critic of the Putin regime, was taken from Russia for treatment in Germany after being near-fatally poisoned with Novichok. On his return to Russia, Navalny was arrested and imprisoned for three years, and has faced other prosecutions. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Navalny’s imprisonment is unlawful.

The statement after the Council of the EU meeting said that during debate among the foreign ministers “a shared assessment emerged that Russia was drifting towards an authoritarian state and away from Europe”.

“Ministers restated their unity of intent, and discussed how relations with Russia could develop within the framework of the five guiding principles and focused on: pushing back on infringements of international law and human rights, containing disinformation and cyberattacks, but also engaging on issues of interest to the EU.”

The EU foreign ministers also agreed to increase support to all those engaged in the country in defending the political and civil freedoms, the statement said.

A Bulgarian Foreign Ministry statement after the meeting quoted Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva as saying that sanctions should be targeted at specific people responsible for serious human rights abuses, and not be the kind that would hurt ordinary Russian citizens, because these would only increase propaganda against the European Union.

“The main priority of the EU should remain the fight against misinformation and fake news, which create not only division between the member states, but also within our societies,” Zaharieva said.

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The Sofia Globe staff

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