Top EU diplomat to propose new sanctions against Russia

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a debate, regarding his recent trip to Russia, during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP)

BRUSSELS – European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Tuesday that the 27-nation bloc must take a firm stance in its future relations with Russia including through the use of new sanctions, in the wake of the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Borrell said that he will submit proposals for such action when he chairs the next meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers on Feb. 22. EU countries are divided in their approach to Russia, and no member state has yet made a demand for such measures.

“It will be for the member states to decide the next step, but yes, this could include sanctions. And I will put forward concrete proposals, using the right of initiative the high representative has,” Borrell told EU lawmakers.

“Containment efforts should include combining robust actions against disinformation, cyberattacks and other possible hybrid challenges,” he said.

Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile political foe, was arrested in January when he returned to Moscow after spending months in Germany recovering from a poisoning in Russia with what experts say was the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

The EU has imposed sanctions on those responsible for his poisoning, but Navalny has urged the Europeans to slap travel bans and asset freezes on several Russian oligarchs close to Putin. Borrell didn't elaborate on the details of his proposal.

Germany, Poland and Sweden on Monday each declared a Russian diplomat in their country “persona non grata,” retaliating in kind to last week’s decision by Moscow to expel diplomats from the three EU countries, accusing them of attending a rally in support of Navalny.

Moscow’s decision on Friday was as an extra slap in the face for the Europeans because it came as Borrell — the EU’s top diplomat — was meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Borrell said he learned about the expulsions on social media.