EU set to agree sanctions over Russia, Myanmar crackdowns

Brussels, Feb 22 (AFP/APP): EU foreign ministers are expected Monday to back sanctions against those behind Russia’s crackdown on Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and his supporters, as well as targeting Myanmar’s military for its coup.

The top diplomats from the 27-nation bloc met in Brussels for a full agenda of talks that will also include a wide-ranging videoconference with new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

But it will be responses to a raft of abuses in various regions that will dominate, with Venezuelan authorities also in the crosshairs over widely-criticised elections last year. The move to target the Kremlin comes two weeks after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was caught in a diplomatic ambush in Moscow that enraged member states.

Capitals are eyeing using the EU’s new human rights sanctions regime for the first time to hit individuals responsible for the clampdown with asset freezes and visa bans, diplomats said. Borrell called for a “united and determined” response from the bloc as he arrived for the meeting. “It’s clear that Russia is on a confrontational course with the European Union,” he said.

Diplomats said they expect a political agreement to be reached on punishing officials — with the list of names to be worked out in the coming days. “There is a very large majority supporting the adoption of new sanctions,” Romania’s Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu said.

Two of Navalny’s closest associates called for the targeting of Putin’s closest allies at a meeting with eight EU foreign ministers in Brussels Sunday. But European diplomats say only those directly implicated in the clampdown can be targeted because the list needs to stand up to any challenge in court.

The mood towards Moscow has hardened in the wake of Borrell’s disastrous trip to Russia, during which Moscow announced the expulsion of three European diplomats and rebuffed talk of cooperation.

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