Russia has gone way too far in capturing opposition leader Navalny right after his arrival. By far most countries of the European Union think so. Today the foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels and they are very likely to declare new sanctions against Russia.
The sanctions will be imposed on people who have been involved in human rights violations in Russia. These could be police officers who arrested Navalny, judges who sentenced him or people who have recently been involved in the crackdown on protests in Russia. Their bank balances will be frozen and they will no longer receive visas to travel to the EU.
That may sound like a tough approach, but it is not what the now imprisoned Navalny himself wants. He spoke with MEPs at the end of November and called on Brussels to declare sanctions against wealthy Russian oligarchs. If they can no longer dock their luxury yachts in the ports of Monaco and Barcelona, they will put pressure on Putin to change course, Navalny argues.
That course may seem logical, but according to EU diplomats it is still difficult to implement in practice. Thanks to a Dutch initiative, it has recently become possible to impose EU sanctions on the basis of human rights violations. But the people targeted by those sanctions must have been directly involved in those violations. And that does not apply to the oligarchs.
If Russians are on the sanction list who had nothing to do with the arrest of Navalny or the crackdown on protests, they can appeal their sentences in the European Court. If such a case is lost, it would be a great disgrace for the EU. And so the EU countries really want to limit the list to people who can be proven to have violated human rights in recent times.
The problem is that EU sanctions will not necessarily hit local judges or police hard. Brussels diplomats say that the threat of European sanctions means that not all judges want to participate in show trials.
That is a gain for the EU, but at the same time threats from the Kremlin will have a much greater impact on their lives for most Russians than threats from Brussels. If the Russian police officers or judges on the sanction list do not travel to the EU anyway, they will never be denied a visa. The question is also whether these groups have European bank balances.
NOS op 3 previously made this video about Navalny:
Ministers must unanimously agree to the sanctions. The EU countries are by no means always aligned with regard to their Russia policy. Hungary, for example, buys corona vaccines from the Russians, even though they are criticized for them from Brussels. Germany, on the other hand, does not see any economic sanctions that could harm the project around the Russian-German gas pipeline Nordstream 2.
Still, the EU countries seem to be more aligned on sanctions over Navalny’s fate. In October, EU ministers also imposed sanctions after Navalny was poisoned. If there were any opponents, they lost the battle. In recent days, there were also no countries in the preparatory meetings that threatened to veto new sanctions.
The visit of the European foreign coordinator Borrell to Moscow at the beginning of this month may also be related to this. Borrell did not make a strong impression there. At a press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov told him straight to the face that the EU is not a reliable partner. Borrell left it unchallenged. The same day, Lavrov also expelled three more European diplomats.
Although there has been a lot of criticism of Borrell’s performance in Brussels, the ranks also seem to be closed towards Russia. Dropping Borrell now would be the wrong signal to the Kremlin. The absence of sanctions after such a difficult visit would confirm the picture of a hesitant EU foreign policy.
It will not yet be known today who exactly will be placed on the sanction list. Brussels officials will be addressing this in the coming weeks. At the EU summit next month, EU leaders will then definitively confirm those names.