LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers on Monday backed a Franco-German plan to impose sanctions on Russians suspected of poisoning Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent, diplomats said .
Berlin and Paris made their proposal at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg. They say they have not had a credible explanation from Moscow for what the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said was the presence of the banned Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in Navalny’s body.
The speed with which the EU’s two main powers have agreed to push forward with sanctions suggests a hardening of the bloc’s stance on Moscow. It took almost a year for the EU to agree on sanctions against the Russians after a 2018 nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters arriving at the meeting earlier on Monday that the poisoning of Navalny could not “remain without consequences”.
“France and Germany are proposing to impose sanctions on certain people who have caught our attention in this regard,” Maas said, without giving details.
EU diplomats told Reuters that the 27 foreign ministers broadly supported the asset freeze and travel ban of several Russian military intelligence officials from the GRU.
Moscow denies any involvement in the poisoning of Navalny.
Russian lawmaker Vladimir Dzhabarov said on Monday that Russia could respond to EU sanctions symmetrically and reiterated Moscow’s line that there was no concrete evidence behind the allegations, the news agency reported. Interfax.
Sanctions should not be approved immediately as legal texts have to be prepared and approved by experts from the 27 EU states.
Navalny fell ill on a flight to Siberia on August 20 and was later flown to Berlin for treatment. Blood samples taken from him confirmed the presence of a nerve agent from the banned Novichok family, the OPCW said last week.
Western governments and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have said Russia must help with investigations or face the consequences.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, whose country has tended to favor closer ties with Russia, said there could be no “going back to business as usual” and that Moscow did had failed to dispel doubts about the poisoning.