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EU to increase Navalny sanctions on Russia

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

“We reached a political agreement to impose restrictive measures against those responsible for it [Navalny’s] arrest and sentencing and persecution, “said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell after chairing their meeting in Brussels. He did not provide details about the sanctions but said he hoped they would be finalized in about a week.

Borrell suggested that those targeted would not include oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin, as Navalny supporters have demanded.

Navalny, 44, an anti-corruption investigator and Putin’s most prominent critic, was arrested in Moscow last month when he returned from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a poisoning by nerve agents he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have denied the allegations.

Earlier this month, a court sentenced Navalny to two years and eight months in prison for violating the terms of his probation while recovering 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 is illegal. Navalny’s arrest and imprisonment have sparked a wave of protests across Russia. Authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown, detaining about 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or sentenced to prison terms ranging from seven to 15 days.

“There is a common assessment in the Council that Russia is moving towards an authoritarian state and is leaving Europe,” Borrell told reporters.

Given Moscow’s apparent path to “confrontation and non-engagement,” Borrell said the bloc would work on three tracks: push back when Russia violates international law, restrain it when it puts pressure on the EU, and engage in issues that are in the interest of Europe.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined the ministers via video conference for part of their meeting, with talks focusing on Russia but also China. Borrell said the exchange was “very, very encouraging” and showed Washington’s readiness to not only renew ties, but to join the global leadership on coronavirus, economic recovery, climate change and the defense of democratic values.

Meanwhile, the UN’s top human rights body has opened its first and highest-level meeting of 2021, amid growing concerns over issues including the military coup in Burma, Navalny’s arrest and his situation. rights in some countries, including China.

The four-week session of the Human Rights Council starting Monday drew several presidents and prime ministers for “its high-level segment”.

The military coup and violent crackdown on protesters in Burma since early February has been among the most pressing issues on the council’s agenda.

“Today, I call on the Myanmar military to stop the crackdown immediately,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “Release the prisoners. End the violence. Respect the human rights and the will of the people expressed in the last election. Coups have no place in our modern world.”

Burma is often referred to as Myanmar, a name adopted by military authorities in 1989. Some nations, such as the United States and Britain, have refused to approve the name change.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab cited a “grave and shocking situation” in Russia and said it was “shameful” that Navalny had been sentenced to “arbitrary charges” after being poisoned last year.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas spoke of China, citing the “arbitrary banning of ethnic minorities” such as Muslim Uighurs in the Xinjiang region and “the suppression of China’s civil liberties in Hong Kong.”

His Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, echoed his government’s frequent criticism of foreign interference in China’s “internal affairs” and defended Beijing’s policies in Hong Kong – where he claimed public support for a security law. widely criticized – and Xinjiang.

In addition to such hot-button issues, the session is expected to address a range of global human rights concerns such as post-election repression in Belarus, a crackdown by the Ethiopian government in the country’s Tigray region and state-sponsored violence in countries including Nicaragua. .

“Every corner of the globe is suffering from the disease of human rights violations,” Guterres said.

Information for this article was contributed by Geir Moulson and Jamey Keaten of The Associated Press.

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday, 22 February 2021. EU foreign ministers on Monday will look at options for the imposition of new sanctions against Russia on the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny as the 27-nation bloc considers the future of its troubled ties with the country. (Yves Herman, Pool through AP)

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks at a news conference following a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday, 22 February 2021. (Johanna Geron, Pool through AP)

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German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaks to the media as he arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday, 22 February 2021. European Union foreign ministers on Monday will look at options for setting up new sanctions against Russia over the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny as the 27-nation bloc considers the future of its troubled ties with the country. (Yves Herman, Pool through AP)

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks to the media as he arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday, 22 February 2021. European Union foreign ministers will watch on Monday. options for imposing new sanctions against Russia for imprisoning opposition leader Alexei Navalny as the 27-nation bloc considers the future of its troubled ties with the country. (Yves Herman, Pool through AP)

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks at a news conference following a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday, 22 February 2021. (Johanna Geron, Pool through AP)

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German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaks to the media as he arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday, 22 February 2021. European Union foreign ministers on Monday will look at options for setting up new sanctions against Russia over the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny as the 27-nation bloc considers the future of its troubled ties with the country. (Yves Herman, Pool through AP)

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks to the media as he arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday, 22 February 2021. European Union foreign ministers will watch on Monday. options for imposing new sanctions against Russia for imprisoning opposition leader Alexei Navalny as the 27-nation bloc considers the future of its troubled ties with the country. (Yves Herman, Pool through AP)

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell removes his face mask as he prepares to speak at a press conference following a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday, 22 February 2021. Johanna Geron, Pool via AP)

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