Russia, Venezuela, Hong Kong, Belarus: meeting Monday in Brussels, EU foreign ministers will crack down on human rights violations in these countries and have said they are “ready” to sanction the military coup in Burma – but the targeted sanctions have little effect, deplore supporters of more muscular actions.
Russian opponent Alexei Navalny bluntly told MEPs in November 2020, during his recovery in Germany where he was treated after being poisoned in Russia. “The EU should target the money, the oligarchs, not just the old oligarchs, but the new ones, members of Putin’s inner circle,” he said.
Alexei Navalny was arrested on his return to Moscow in January and has been accumulating convictions since. The EU denounces a politicization of justice and demands its release. In vain.
The Europeans have therefore decided to crack down: on Monday they will activate their new human rights sanctions regime. The decision will be taken during a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels and the measures will be effective for the European summit on March 25 and 26.
“A very large majority supports the adoption of new sanctions,” Romanian Minister Bogdan Aurescu said upon arriving at the meeting. “I foresee sanctions (…) and am impatient to see a united EU”, added the Swedish Ann Linde.
Relatives of Alexei Navalny have submitted lists of personalities from the president’s inner circle to them, but “it is hardly possible to sanction the oligarchs. We can only act against officials, and that only if we have evidence” , underlined the head of Luxembourg diplomacy Jean Asselborn.
The European sanctions consist of a visa ban and an asset freeze in the EU for the persons or entities concerned.
Europeans remain divided over the Kremlin. “We must look for ways to dialogue with Moscow, we need Russia’s help in a number of international conflicts,” said German foreign minister Heiko Maas.
Moscow stands “ready to react” in the event of “a new round of restrictive, unilateral, illegitimate measures,” Russian Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, warned in an interview with the German daily Die Welt.
– Economic levers –
The reaction to the coup d’état in Burma was the first point discussed by the ministers. the EU “stands ready” to adopt sanctions against the military if its calls for “de-escalation” are not followed, say the conclusions adopted after the discussion.
New sanctions against Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela must also be discussed, diplomatic sources said. About thirty names should be added to the country’s blacklist.
The ministers must also take stock of the measures adopted against the repression carried out in Hong Kong, where the principle of “one country, two systems” is questioned by China. “We have to see if more needs to be done,” said a European diplomat.
Imprisonment and harassment of journalists in Belarus could also be punished. But three sets of sanctions have already been adopted against the regime and President Alexander Lukashenko has been blacklisted without any effect. And the support shown by Vladimir Poutine confirms Minsk.
Critics are mounting against the ineffectiveness of targeted European sanctions. “Europe should not be afraid to use its economic levers against Russia,” argues Ian Bond, director for international political affairs at the Center for European reform (CER).
But “we should not wait for a united approach”, deplores the Italian Gianni Rotta, expert in disinformation with the European Commission.
“The EU faces a pandemic and growing economic hardship, reliance on Russian gas and has a few member countries that either sympathize with the Kremlin or are dominated by populist parties fueled by Russia,” he said. explained in an interview for the Carnegie Europe center.
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