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The European Union negotiates new sanctions against Russia

A response to the arrest of Alexei Navalny

Recently, rumours have spread about further restrictive measures agreed by the European Union against Russia. During Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels on 22 February 2021, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell presented a list of possible new measures against Russia, which were positively accepted by the Foreign Ministers of the 27 EU Members. However, the sanctions, in order to be implemented, should be unanimously approved by the European Council on 26 March 2021. The EU measures aim is to target four individuals allegedly responsible for the arrest and conviction of the Russian anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny. The decision to enforce sanctions against Russia is particularly significant because...


Alexei Navalny is a 44-year-old political opponent who became famous thanks to his political commentary posted online on corruption present in the country, especially among the Russian elite. Thanks to millions of followers, he started organising mass protests in 2011-2012, ran for mayor of Moscow in 2013, and even tried to run for the presidency in 2017. As a direct consequence of his anti-corruption activism, he has been arrested multiple times for protests and convicted of fraud and embezzlement. Indeed, Navalny's relationship with the law prevented him from achieving his goals, especially his bid for the presidency against Vladimir Putin. Although Alexei Navalny has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence, the Russian Government has remained firm on its position. Nonetheless, even the European Court of Human Rights has started to investigate the continuous charges against Navalny. In 2019, Alexei Navalny risked his life in prison due to an alleged poisoning, in response to which he was promptly transferred to a hospital in Germany for treatment.After a thorough investigation, German investigators affirmed the poisoning, stating that a nerve agent from the Novichok family was used for the attempted killing, a chemical substance conceived during the Soviet era that Russia has already been accused of using previously.As a result, Navalny accused Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) of the attempted killing, even though the FSB denied its involvement.


After his recovery in Germany, Navalny decided to return to Russia in January 2021 to pursue his mission. He was immediately arrested on 17 January after his landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport for two reasons. Firstly, by leaving the country to be healed in Germany, Navalny has allegedly violated a suspended prison sentence dating back to 2014. Secondly, he was apprehended because of an anti-corruption video entitled "Дворец для Путина” (Putin’s Palace) posted on YouTube upon his return to Russia. It was a video concerning a luxurious palace near the Black Sea, which had been given to Putin by a wealthy association. The response to Navalny's arrest was a massive public protest across Russia, which is still ongoing. Here comes the intervention of the European Union. Indeed, Alexei Navalny’s conviction has been declared by the European Court of Human Rights as unlawful, in violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to such a statement by declaring the European intervention as meddling in the country's internal affairs. Thus, after the Russian decision to not release Navalny, the European Council of Ministers presented an ultimatum, ready to impose new sanctions if Navalny’s imprisonment persists.


The sanctions agreed within the Council of Foreign Affairs by the 27 EU Members will be more precisely targeting measures, catering for four Senior Russian Officials through travel bans and asset freeze. However, the list with the names proposed by the High Representative Borrell and the precise restrictive measures to be implemented has not yet been consolidated.Nevertheless, these sanctions will mark a significant step further in European history. Indeed, it will be the first time since the sanctions imposed last October on six individuals for Navalny's poisoning that the European Union has used the "Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime": a mechanism that facilitates sanctions against human rights infringements.


The response of the Russian Federation was clear. The Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has declared that Russia is ready to cut relations with the European Union if the latter continues to impose further sanctions against the country. Russia's strong reaction is mainly related to the detrimental effects that the already imposed EU sanctions are having on the national economy. In fact, Lavrov stated: "We proceed from the fact that we're ready [for that]. In the event that we again see sanctions imposed in some sectors that create risks for our economy, including in the most sensitive spheres. We don't want . to isolate ourselves from global life, but we have to be ready for that. If you want peace then prepare for war."


Author: Greta Bordin

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