At today’s (22 February) Foreign Affairs Council, ministers had a comprehensive and strategic discussion on EU-Russia relations, in preparation for a strategic debate on EU-Russia relations at the next European Council. During the debate a shared assessment emerged that Russia was drifting towards an authoritarian state and away from Europe.
EU Magnitsky Act
On Alexander Navalny, ministers agreed to make use of the recently adopted EU global human rights regime for the first time since its inception, the so-called EU Magnitsky Act.
“In response to the events around the situation of Mr. Navalny we reached a political agreement to impose restrictive measures against those responsible for his arrest, sentencing and persecution. For the first time ever we will make use of the EU Global Human Rights Regime to this end,” Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Borrell was asked if the EU would be prepared to sanction oligarchs close to Putin, as Navalny has requested, but Borrell replied that he could only propose sanctions on those directly involved, otherwise the sanctions would be found to be illegal.
Push back, contain, engage
Ministers discussed how it should deal with Russia in the current circumstances. The High Representative outlined three elements to the EU approach. The EU will push back on infringements of international law and human rights. It will try to contain disinformation and cyberattacks, but will also engage on issues of interest to the EU.
Ministers also agreed to increase support to all those engaged in defending political and civil freedoms in Russia.
Russia: Summoning of the Russian Ambassador to the EU
European Commission Secretary General Ilze Juhansone and External Action Service Secretary General Stefano Sannino jointly summoned the Ambassador of Russian Federation to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov (pictured) to condemn the decision of the Russian authorities from last Friday (30 April) to ban eight European Union nationals from entering the territory of the Russian Federation.
Ambassador Chizhov was informed of the strong rejection and firm condemnation by the EU institutions and EU member states of this decision, which was purely politically motivated and lacks any legal justification.
Secretaries-General I. Juhansone and S. Sannino also recalled Russia's expulsion of Czech diplomats and the executive order of the Russian Federation of so called “unfriendly states”, expressing their grave concern for the cumulative impact of all these decisions on the relations between the EU and the government of the Russian Federation.
They also noted that the EU reserves the right to take appropriate measures in response.
G7 to discuss decisive action to counter threats like Russia and China
Britain on Tuesday (4 May) sought to agree decisive action from G7 partners to protect democracies against global threats like those posed by China and Russia.
Hosting the second day of a foreign ministers' meeting in London designed to lay the groundwork for a leaders' summit in June, Dominic Raab (pictured) will lead talks among the Group of Seven wealthy nations on threats to democracy, freedoms and human rights.
"The UK’s presidency of the G7 is an opportunity to bring together open, democratic societies and demonstrate unity at a time when it is much needed to tackle shared challenges and rising threats," Raab said in a statement.
In addition to the G7 members Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, Britain has also invited ministers from Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea this week.
Their first face-to-face meeting in two years is seen by Britain as a chance to reinforce support for the rules-based international system at a time when it says China's economic influence and Russian malign activity threaten to undermine it.
On Monday (3 May), having met with Raab, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was a need to try to forge a global alliance of freedom loving countries, though stressed he did not want to hold China down, but make sure it played by the rules. Read more
Tuesday's discussion also covered the coup in Myanmar, urging stronger action against the military junta in the form of expanded sanctions, support for arms embargoes and more humanitarian assistance.
In the afternoon talks will turn to Russia, including how to respond to a troop manoeuvres on the border with Ukraine and the imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Raab said on Sunday he wanted the G7 to consider a joint rebuttal unit to tackle Russian disinformation and propaganda. Read more
Kremlin critic Navalny looks thin and drained after hunger strike
Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny (pictured), looking gaunt and drained after a hunger strike, denounced Russia's justice system on Thursday (29 April) as his team said he faced new criminal charges and that it was disbanding a network of regional campaign offices, write Polina Nikolskaya and Anton Zverev.
In his first appearance since declaring an end to the three-week hunger strike last week, Navalny, his head shaven, remained defiant, though a blurry video link from jail during a legal hearing in a separate case showed he had lost weight.
Rejecting accusations in the separate case of defaming a World War Two veteran, Navalny said: "I demand that people who signed signatures (against him), (and) the prosecutors be brought to criminal justice."
But after weeks of mounting pressure, his allies announced they were disbanding his network of campaign offices across Russia as a court considers whether to declare them and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) "extremist".
If the network is declared extremist, authorities will gain the legal power to hand down jail terms to activists and freeze bank accounts. The court said on Thursday it would hold its next hearing in the case on 17 May.
"Maintaining the work of Navalny's network of headquarters in its current form is impossible: it would immediately ... lead to criminal sentences for those who work in the headquarters, who collaborate with them and for those who help them," Leonid Volkov, one of Navalny's close allies, said in a YouTube video.
He said many of the offices would try to function as entirely independent regional structures led by their own leaders.
The FBK has already been partially barred from accessing its bank accounts and from organising protests and publishing media articles.
Navalny's allies also said a new criminal case had been opened against him for allegedly setting up a non-profit organisation that infringed on the rights of citizens.
Navalny, 44, is serving a 2-1/2 year jail sentence for parole violations on an earlier conviction that he says was politically motivated.
He declared his hunger strike in prison on March 31 to demand proper medical care for leg and back pain, but said on April 23 that he would start gradually ending it after getting medical care. Read more
Pressure has been mounting on him and his campaigning against political and business corruption for months.
Last year, Navalny accused President Vladimir Putin of being behind an attack on him with a nerve agent that he survived.
Russian authorities denied any involvement and questioned whether he was even poisoned but Western countries have imposed sanctions on Moscow over its treatment of Navalny.
Navalny recovered in Germany from the nerve agent attack, but was arrested on his return to Russia in January and sentenced the following month.
He has also been convicted of defamation in the separate case against him, which he denies.
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