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July 29, 2021

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EU to hit more Russian officials with sanctions over critic Navalny

Official says bloc fears Russia ‘driving away from Europe’

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a media conference after a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, Feb 22, 2021.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a media conference after a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, Feb 22, 2021. (Johanna Geron, Pool via AP) Photo Gallery

BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers agreed Monday to impose new sanctions against Russian officials linked to the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and expressed concern that the government in Moscow appears to see the 27-nation bloc as an adversary.

“We reached a political agreement to impose restrictive measures against those responsible for (Navalny’s) arrest and sentencing and persecution,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after chairing their meeting in Brussels. He gave no details about the sanctions, but said that he hoped they would be finalized in about a week.

Navalny, 44, an anti-corruption investigator and Putin’s most prominent critic, was arrested in Moscow last month upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.

Earlier this month, a court sentenced Navalny to two years and eight months in prison for violating the terms of his probation while recuperating in Germany. The sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated.

The European Court of Human Rights has also ruled that it’s unlawful. Navalny’s arrest and imprisonment have fueled a huge wave of protests across Russia. Authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown, detaining about 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or given jail terms ranging from seven to 15 days.

“There is a shared assessment in the Council that Russia is drifting towards an authoritarian state and driving away from Europe,” Borrell told reporters.

Given Moscow’s apparent path of “confrontation and disengagement,” Borrell said the bloc will work on three tracks: pushing back when Russia infringes international law, containing it when it pressures the EU, and engaging on issues that are in Europe’s interests.

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