EU foreign ministers are due on January 25 to consider their response to the detention of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny two days after a police crackdown on protesters backing him.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the “next steps” on Russia will be discussed at the meeting, which comes as some EU members call for further sanctions against Moscow.
Borrell announced the meeting after protests across Russia on January 23 at which more than 3,700 demonstrators were detained, according to OVD-Info. The figure includes 1,455 in Moscow, where several people were injured in clashes with police.
Western countries widely condemned the “harsh tactics” used against demonstrators.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on January 24 the mass arrest of protesters was “an intolerable affront” and a “slide towards authoritarianism.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda is among those calling for the European Union to step up sanctions against Russia over the treatment of Navalny, the Financial Times reported.
“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,” Duda told the newspaper in an article published on January 24.
The Polish leader also said Borrell should reconsider plans to visit Russia next month unless Navalny is released.
Manfred Weber, leader of 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 head of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) faction in the European Parliament.
“The EU has to hit where it really hurts the Putin system — and that’s the money,” he said, speaking to Germany’s RND newspaper group. The EU should cut financial transactions from Putin’s inner circle, he added.
A day after the protests, which were Russia’s biggest anti-government demonstrations in years, the Kremlin accused the United States of interfering in Russian domestic affairs, but spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said if the new administration of President Joe Biden would be open to a dialogue, he had no doubt Putin would reciprocate.
Peskov’s accusations came in an interview broadcast January 24 and echoed earlier remarks from the Foreign Ministry.
There is no indication that the United States had any role in the demonstrations.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other major cities in support of Navalny, who was jailed a week ago after returning to Russia following his recuperation in Germany for poisoning by a military-grade nerve agent.
Ahead of the protests, the U.S. Embassy published a routine alert as a warning to U.S. citizens about the potential danger for unrest.
The embassy also published a statement saying the United States supports the right of all people to peaceful protest, adding, “Steps being taken by Russian authorities are suppressing those rights.”
Peskov called the statements “inappropriate,” adding “of course indirectly, they are absolutely an interference in our domestic affairs.”
In another reaction to the protests, Leonid Volkov, an ally of Navalny, praised the turnout in cities and towns across all of Russia’s 11 time zones in bitterly cold temperatures.
“I am certainly proud, very impressed, and inspired,” Volkov told AFP. Navalny’s team is hoping to stage another rally next weekend.