Brussels (dpa) – Foreign ministers of the EU countries are today in Brussels to discuss possible reactions to Russia’s actions against Alexei Navalny and his supporters.
Last week, representatives of member states already mentioned new EU sanctions for the arrest of the opposition leader as a realistic option. The actions of the Russian authorities against demonstrations for the release of Navalny over the weekend are likely to add to political pressure again.
Civil rights activists said more than 3,500 people were arrested in more than 100 Russian cities during the protests on Saturday. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, men beat and kicked protesters. For the first time, Navalny’s wife Julia and his colleague Lyubov Sobol were in police custody in Russia. Many of Nawalny’s employees were arrested before the protests and sentenced to several days’ arrest.
EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell said last weekend that he regretted the numerous arrests, the disproportionate use of force and the restriction of internet and telephone connections.
Eastern Member States such as Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are calling for a quick and clear response to Russia in the EU. Others, however, are more cautious and want to see if Navalny is held longer. A final decision on new sanctions is therefore not expected on Monday. Navalny’s next trial is scheduled for February 2.
Navalny was sentenced to 30 days in prison in a controversial express trial in Russia on Monday for alleged violation of registration requirements in previous criminal proceedings. The opposition politician had previously decided to return to his home country, although he became the victim of an attack there in August with the neurotoxin Novichok, which is banned as a chemical weapon.
Due to the attack on Navalny, which was subsequently dealt with in Germany, the EU had already imposed an entry and property ban on people suspected of being responsible near President Vladimir Putin last year. In Brussels, it is believed that government agencies in Russia are behind the attack. Navalny himself sees a “killer squad” from Russia’s internal intelligence agency, the FSB, behind the attack on 20 August on Putin’s orders. Putin and the FSB deny the allegations. Russia refuses to interfere in internal affairs and has responded to EU sanctions with entry bans against representatives of the German government.
Relations with Turkey and Great Britain are other topics of the meeting of EU foreign ministers. There will also be a video conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi. For Germany, Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is expected to attend the talks in Brussels.
The European Parliament has made clear demands on the discussions on the Navalny case and the demonstrations. The CSU politician and EPP group leader Manfred Weber told the editorial network Germany (RND) that EU foreign ministers should no longer “stoop” and leave it to general calls. The fact that the Russian leadership is trying to get rid of the burgeoning protests is not acceptable.
Weber spoke out specifically for interrupting the flow of money from Putin’s followers abroad. Likewise, a shutdown of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project must remain “on the table”.
Leading Russian opposition members who had fled abroad had also called for further EU sanctions. “Hunt them, follow their flows of money,” said former world chess champion Garry Kasparov of Putin’s oligarchs and friends. The laws are poised to freeze the assets of Putin’s billionaire friends in the West.
In Moscow, following the weekend skirmishes, several criminal proceedings were initiated against protesters, some of which were serious. They are accused of violence against state representatives, investigators said Sunday evening.