EU foreign affairs ministers face calls for fresh sanctions against Russia

MEPs also call for plenary debate on the current Russian military build-up at the Ukrainian border.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

19 Apr 2021

Russia was coming under attack from various fronts and also faced EU demands to cut back its troops at the border with Ukraine. Russia has amassed more than 40,000 military personnel near the Ukrainian border.

Sandra Kalniete MEP, deputy leader of the European Parliament’s EPP Group responsible for foreign affairs, said, “The situation is deteriorating and is a serious and growing threat to European stability and security as well as to Ukrainian sovereignty."

Monday’s Foreign Affairs Council will be dominated by Russia and also Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s ill-health. It is believed his health is deteriorating quickly and he will need life-saving treatment soon.

A letter sent to EU leaders by his aides asks EU foreign ministers to “send a clear, uncompromising message to Russia: Alexei must immediately be granted his lawful request for a doctor of his choice.”

On Sunday, Ursula von der Leyen called for his release from prison, and said, “I am deeply worried about Alexei Navalny’s health” while EU’s High Representative Josep Borrell added that the “Russian authorities are “responsible for Navalny’s safety and health in the penal colony, to which we hold them to account.”

Officials from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany also meet on Monday while, elsewhere, the Czech government has expelled 18 Russian diplomats, claiming Russia’s military intelligence service was involved in a massive 2014 explosion at an ammunition warehouse that killed two people. Two of those named by the Czechs are wanted in the UK for the poisoning of a former Russian military officer in 2018.

“The time for the EU to warn Putin that there will be real consequences to his actions is now. In light of Navalny’s mistreatment and Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine, wide - ranging measures targeting Putin’s inner circle and benefactors should be prepared” Renew Europe Group leader in the European Parliament, Dacian Cioloş

With EU-Russia relations in near crisis, the European Parliament’s Renew Europe has also initiated a cross party letter, co-signed by fellow leaders in the Parliament, calling on Borrell “to prepare wide- ranging dissuasive” sanctions targeting Putin’s inner circle, in light of the “continued mistreatment” of Navalny and the “deeply concerning” military build-up of Russian forces in Ukraine.

Renew Europe leader Dacian Cioloş said, “The time for the EU to warn Putin that there will be real consequences to his actions is now. In light of Navalny’s mistreatment and Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine, wide - ranging measures targeting Putin’s inner circle and benefactors should be prepared.”

In January 2021, the Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the introduction of sanctions against Russian oligarchs related to the regime and members of President Putin’s inner circle. Renew Europe believes these sanctions should also be extended to their immediate family members.

Cioloş said, “Russian aggression towards Ukraine and attempts to destabilise the Black Sea region are unacceptable. The EU must work with the US and others to send a clear message that such provocations will have costs for those who benefit the most from Putin’s regime.”

The Parliament’s EPP group, meanwhile, wants a parliamentary debate in next week’s plenary session on the current Russian military build-up at the Ukrainian border.

Kalniete said, “It is Europe’s collective duty to reaffirm our support for Ukraine and we would like to hear from the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council on how the European Union intends to do it.”

“The Russian regime will have to pay the price for its aggression against Ukraine, as well as for the way it is treating Navalny. We must see the Russian Government for what it is - a threatened, insecure dictatorship that keeps its power through aggression against its neighbours and its political opponents” Sandra Kalniete MEP, deputy leader of the European Parliament’s EPP Group responsible for foreign affairs

“The Russian regime will have to pay the price for its aggression against Ukraine, as well as for the way it is treating Navalny. We must see the Russian Government for what it is - a threatened, insecure dictatorship that keeps its power through aggression against its neighbours and its political opponents.”

“We have seen this precise scenario played out before. We cannot afford to see it happen again.”

“The EU has to start to deliver on their declarations: we must assist Ukraine militarily in terms of strengthening capabilities and also politically. It has to be made clear without any delay by the highest authorities of the EU. In addition, together with our partners, it is time to grant the NATO Membership Action Plan to Ukraine”, she concluded.

A statement issued on Monday by the European council said it was “deeply concerned” that “Navalny’s health in the penal colony continues to deteriorate even further.”

“We call on the Russian authorities to grant him immediate access to medical professionals he trusts. The Russian authorities are responsible for Navalny’s safety and health in the penal colony, to which we hold them to account.

“The EU will continue to call for his immediate and unconditional release as we consider his sentencing politically motivated and running counter to Russia’s international human rights obligations. In this regard, we also expect Russia to fulfil its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, including complying with the interim measure of the European Court of Human Rights with regard to the nature and extent of risk to Navalny’s life.

"The Navalny case is not an isolated incident but confirms a negative pattern of a shrinking space for the opposition, civil society and independent voices in the Russian Federation.

"The European Union, together with its partners, will continue to call on Russia to urgently investigate the assassination attempt through poisoning on Navalny in full transparency and without further delay, and to fully cooperate with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to ensure an impartial international investigation.”

A statement by NATO said, “Allies will continue to work in close consultation to address Russia’s actions, which constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security.”

“We call on Russia to cease immediately its destabilising behaviour, and to uphold its international obligations, as Allies do theirs, including existing arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation agreements and commitments. We also call on Russia to cease its provocations and to immediately de-escalate tensions on Ukraine’s borders and in illegally-annexed Crimea.”

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