All EU appeals to Russia to release Kremlin critic Navalny have so far been in vain. The EU foreign ministers are now advising. Will there be new sanctions? This is unlikely to happen in the short term.
By Stephan Ueberbach, ARD-Studio Brussels
Alexei Navalny must be released, and immediately. The European Union has been demanding this for a good week now. Most recently, after the Corona summit of the heads of state and government on Friday night, EU Council President Charles Michel had a clear message for the leadership in Moscow:
At the next EU summit in March, Michel wants to set the future course with regard to Moscow – and during a telephone call he informed Russian President Vladimir Putin that the European Union is very concerned about the latest developments.
According to Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Russia is bound by its own constitution and international obligations to the rule of law and the protection of civil rights – also in the Navalny case.
Moscow forbids any interference
So far, however, the appeals from Brussels, Berlin and elsewhere have brought nothing. Moscow forbids any outside interference and is not even considering releasing the prominent opposition politician from prison.
Instead, the government is taking massive action against the Navalny supporters. After the mass arrests at the demonstrations over the weekend, calls for further sanctions are getting louder in the EU – especially from the Baltic states, but also from France and Italy.
The European Parliament is also campaigning for new punitive measures and is demanding, among other things, the stop of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. However, it is unlikely that the EU foreign ministers will join these demands. It is still too early for a new round of sanctions, a senior EU diplomat said before the meeting.
New measures only unanimously
“Relations between the European Union and Russia cannot be reduced to the poisoning of Mr Navalny. We will of course react quickly and decisively to this, but there are other common issues that we have to deal with.”
As an example, the EU foreign policy representative cites the Minsk Agreement, which is supposed to ensure peace in Ukraine. In Brussels it is said that pioneering decisions that go well beyond the previous appeals – i.e. new sanction decisions – are not to be expected in the next few days.
Obviously, hardly anyone in the EU believes that Navalny will be released quickly.