E.U. imposes sanctions on Russian officials after Navalny imprisonment

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“Russian is drifting towards an authoritarian state and driving away from Europe,” E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in announcing the sanctions. “It is interested in confrontation and disengagement from the European Union.”

He said the sanctions would target officials responsible for Navalny’s detention and prosecution. Although the final list is subject to confirmation, E.U. officials plan to target two prosecutorial officials, the head of Russia’s national guard, and the head of Russia’s prison service, diplomats said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.

The measures will go into effect in about a week.

The sanctions toughened the E.U.’s stance against Russia at a moment when the United States is also pursuing hardened measures against the Kremlin after four years in which President Donald Trump sought friendlier relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken took part in the E.U. discussions via videoconference, the first direct contact between him and the top diplomats of the 27-nation body as a whole. They talked about Russia, China and reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Iran deal in 2018.

“We are looking forward to reengage with the U.S.,” Borrell said, after E.U.-U.S. relations during the Trump administration scraped post-World War II lows.

Borrell’s trip to Moscow this month, intended to try to revive a dialogue with Russian leaders, badly backfired. He was criticized by other E.U. policymakers after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blasted Europe for what he said were human rights violations as he stood next to Borrell at a news conference.

In the end, the visit seems to have reversed his stance on Russia. Shortly after the visit, Borrell said he wanted new sanctions.

“Borrell now is more hawkish than us,” said one senior European diplomat who is skeptical of Russia.

Borrell brushed aside criticism of the trip on Monday, saying it had “provided good information” about the intentions of Russian leaders.

The sanctions decision “sends a very clear message to people who are part of this regime, and maybe this will contribute to a small crack, to a small split within the regime, when people will start to feel that being close to Putin is not as safe and pretty anymore as it used to be,” Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, told reporters in Brussels on Monday.

Before Monday’s decision, Volkov had called for a broader list of Russian oligarchs to be sanctioned to try to weaken elite support for Putin’s leadership. Borrell said the legal case against officials directly responsible for Navalny’s imprisonment would be more watertight.

The E.U. foreign ministers — who met in person in Brussels — also approved new sanctions against Venezuela and discussed how to support protesters in Hong Kong and respond to the Myanmar military’s imprisonment of the country’s elected leaders.

Birnbaum reported from Riga, Latvia.

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