(CN) — The European Union's foreign policy chief on Monday said the bloc was imposing new sanctions on Russia over the arrest and jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Such a move poses the risk of seriously worsening relations between the EU and Russia. Earlier this month, as the prospect of sanctions grew, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was ready to break off ties with the EU if it imposed new economic sanctions.
On Monday, the EU's foreign ministers agreed to issue sanctions, according to Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign affairs chief. The decision came during a meeting in Brussels. The details of the proposed sanctions were not released.
Media reports, citing EU diplomats, said the sanctions target four top Russian officials in connection with the Navalny case. The sanctions under consideration would involve asset freezes and a ban on travel into the EU, media reported.
The EU is under a lot of pressure to act more decisively against Russia over its treatment of Navalny. The opposition leader and anti-corruption crusader was arrested after he flew back to Moscow in January in a brave move to challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Navalny was arrested on charges that he violated his parole for a suspended sentence in connection with an embezzlement conviction deemed arbitrary and unreasonable by the European Court of Human Rights. In what Navalny decried as a mockery of justice, Russian authorities accused him of missing parole hearings while he was in Germany receiving treatment for his poisoning. Navalny accuses Putin's regime of being behind the poisoning.
His jailing sparked widespread protests in Russia and outrage outside of the country. Russian police arrested thousands of protesters.
At a news conference on Monday, Borrell said Russia was “drifting towards an authoritarian state” and that it “seems to have decided to act as an adversary” rather than a friendly neighbor.
Moscow's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told the German newspaper Die Welt that Russia was “ready to react” to what he described as a “new cycle of restrictive, unilateral, illegitimate measures.”
The likelihood of sanctions mounted in the wake of a disastrous trip Borrell made to Moscow in early February in an attempt to open dialogue with the Kremlin and demand it free Navalny. Instead, Borrell was humiliated in what many described as a diplomatic fiasco and further evidence of the EU's weaknesses in foreign affairs, especially in dealing with aggressive regimes like Russia.
During Borrell's Moscow trip, Lavrov called the EU an “unreliable partner” during a joint news conference with Borrell and the Kremlin added insult by expelling diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden who had participated in protests over Navalny's treatment.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.
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