BRUSSELS (Dispatches) -- EU foreign ministers were expected on Monday to greenlight the preparation of new sanctions against Russia over the jailing of Western-backed blogger Alexei Navalny, according to several diplomats.
Such sanctions would come on top of the ones already imposed last year after Navalny, according to the European governments, was poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent and had to be treated in Germany. Navalny and Western nations blamed Russian agents for the poisoning, which the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.
The blogger was then arrested and sentenced to more than two years in prison earlier this month shortly after he arrived back in Moscow from Germany, charged with violating probation.
Navalny’s arrest has sparked protests in Russia that have been cheered and encouraged by the U.S. and the Europeans. The European Court of Human Rights, the international court of the Council of Europe, this week demanded his release, arguing his life was at risk. Moscow dismissed that request as "unlawful.”
Support for new EU sanctions against Russia has grown since a recent disastrous Moscow visit by the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, during which he failed to push back against Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who accused EU leaders of lying about the poisoning and called the bloc an "unreliable partner.”
According to three senior diplomats, none of the countries who spoke during Wednesday’s meeting objected to allowing preparation to move forward for possible sanctions, nor did anyone oppose the notion of using for the first time a new so-called EU Magnitsky Act — a mechanism agreed last December that offers more powers to punish individuals involved in human rights violations.
One diplomat said there are already some indications of possible names to target under the new sanctions floating around.
Russia was also be one of the topics to be discussed with new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who took part in the Monday meeting via video link.
EU ambassadors on Thursday held a lunch with Borrell and according to one of the participants, the foreign affairs chief said he expected ministers would give the green light for the sanctions. During the lunch, "there was no harsh criticism” of Borrell because participants felt the need to show unity and to avoid doing anything that could offer Russia an advantage.
"We know how it went but it’s time to turn page,” said one of the diplomats.