EU foreign ministers will meet later on Monday to discuss how the bloc should respond to the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
The talks in Brussels come two days after a police crackdown on Navalny’s supporters in which more than 3,500 people were detained.
“The Russian constitution gives everybody in Russia the right to express their opinion and to participate in demonstrations,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said ahead of the meeting.
“For this reason we expect that those who demonstrated peacefully are released immediately,” he added. Russian police made more than 3,000 arrests on Saturday during demonstrations that attracted tens of thousands of people.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc would deal with “the worrying events in Russia.” .
At the weekend, the former Spanish foreign minister branded the crackdown a “disproportionate use of force.”
What action could be taken?
A binding decision on sanctions cannot be taken at this meeting; such a move would have to be signed off by EU leaders and they will not meet again until March.
Poland has already said that it will back a series of restrictive measures against Moscow. The EU has a new, streamlined tool for blacklisting foreign officials over human-rights violations.
“The only way to (avoid conflict) is to force international law to be observed. The only way to do this without rifles, cannons and bombs is via sanctions. So we are ready to help build consensus on that issue,” Polish President Andrzej Duda told the Financial Times in an interview.
Senior German MEP urges tough response
German MEP Manfred Weber, leader of the European People’s Party, the EU’s largest political alliance, also called for decisive action.
“The EU foreign ministers are not allowed to dodge this once again and stop at general appeals,” said Weber, a senior German conservative and a member of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.
“The EU has to hit where it really hurts the Putin system — and that’s the money,” he said, speaking to Germany’s Redaktions Netzwerk Deutschland newspaper group. The EU should cut financial transactions from Putin’s inner circle, he added.
Weber said the German government should not rule out stopping the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is meant to double natural gas deliveries from Russia to Germany.
Germany faces criticism over Russian pipeline project
Germany has faced critcism in the European Parliament for refusing to cancel the project despite repeated human rights violations committed by the Russian government.
MEPs last week passed a resolution calling for the pipeline to be halted over Navalny’s arrest.
A German govenrment spokesman declined to comment on whether Merkel backs new sanctions against Russia.
The German chancellor has also repeatedly backed Nord Stream 2.
jf/rt (AFP, Reuters)