EU baulks at hitting Russia with sanctions, issues a short-list of anonymous officials

By bne IntelliNews February 22, 2021

The European Union foreign ministers could hardly have imposed less sanctions on Russia at a government meeting on February 20 if they had tried.

Russia critics and Team Navalny have been calling for harsh new sanctions to be imposed on Russia after anti-corruption activist and opposition politician Alexei Navalny was jailed for 2.8 years in a ruling that was confirmed at the weekend after a Moscow court rejected his appeal.

Team Navalny issued a list of 35 senior Russian officials, heads of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and two oligarchs, Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov, that it suggested should sanctioned.

Russia’s most vocal critics in the EU, that include Poland and the Baltic states, also called for new sanctions. But as bne IntelliNews reported yesterday, the EU remains conflicted over what to do with Russia and the majority of states are sitting on the fence; harsh sanctions were not expected to emerge from the meeting by insiders.

Germany’s pivotal role in Europe and its desire to see the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia completed probably played a major part in the cautious statement. Threats by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to break off diplomatic relations with Europe if sanctions are imposed at the start of February were probably also crucial.

Details of what was actually decided remain vague, but according to reports four senior Russian officials will be sanctioned, facing visa bans and asset freezes.

While the actual names of the officials were not mentioned during the discussions, two diplomats who participated in the meeting told Reuters the officials were Russia’s head of the Investigative Committee, which handles probes into major crimes, the director of prisons, the director of Russia’s National Guard and the prosecutor-general.

Alexander Bastrykin heads the Investigative Committee and is a widely feared figure, as he has almost unlimited powers of investigation and is already under UK human rights sanctions.

Igor Krasnov became Russia’s prosecutor-general a year ago, the top policeman that is in charge of the OMON riot police that have brutally broken up recent protests.

Viktor Zolotov, head of Russia’s National Guard, publicly threatened Navalny with violence in September 2018.

The fourth man named by the diplomat is Alexander Kalashnikov, head of the federal prison service that has just accepted Navalny as an inmate.

The agreement to impose these largely symbolic sanctions will be confirmed by a general meeting in March and maybe be expanded at that meeting.

The EU has already sanctioned six Russians and a state scientific research centre in response to the treatment of Navalny.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the decision was taken to go ahead with sanctions quickly, but gave no details.

“The relations (with Russia) are certainly at a low, there is no other word for it,” Maas said.

Navalny’s senior aide Leonid Volkov, who is in self-imposed exile in Latvia, took the short-list stoically.

“Even if it’s too little ... it’s the first time personal sanctions are applied with regard to human rights violations, so it opens a way for further negotiation on this with Europe,” he said, as cited by Reuters.

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