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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - BRUSSELS — Several foreign ministers from European Union nations called for sanctions against Russia over the detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and his supporters as they met in Brussels on Monday.
The opposition leader was arrested on Jan. 18 as he returned to Russia following a five-month convalescence in Germany after a nerve agent attack. Thousands of protesters across the country were detained after rallying in numerous cities to demand his release at the weekend.
At least 3,000 arrests were reported on Saturday in locations spanning from Siberia to Moscow, according to the OVD-info organization that monitors political detentions, as thousands more demonstrated in temperatures as low as -50C.
"I think the EU needs to send a very clear and decisive message that this is not acceptable and we have a very, in my opinion, effective mechanism — the EU global rights sanctions regime," Gabrielius Landsbergis, minister of foreign affairs for Lithuania, told reporters.
"I think it needs to be used decisively in order to send a message that human rights abuses, wherever they happen, in Minsk, in Moscow, in Hong Kong, they will not be tolerated," he added.
His Romanian counterpart, Bogdan Aurescu, said that he "will reiterate Romania's condemnation of the arrest of Navalny, which is unacceptable and I will reiterate our opinion that repression against the opposition just because it is the opposition is unacceptable and is non-democratic."
"We have to discuss today, and I think we will discuss today, the adoption of sanctions," he went on.
Josep Borrell, the EU's High representative, said upon arrival at the summit in Brussels on Monday morning that Russia is first on the agenda but did not mention possible sanctions.
"More than 3,000 people have been reportedly arrested. This wave of detention is something that worries us a lot as well as the detention of Navalny," he told reporters.
Upon his arrival at the meeting, Germany's foreign minister, Heiko Maas, called for the release of the protesters who were arrested across the country on Saturday during protests in support of Navalny. “The rule of law must also apply in Russia," he added.
The foreign ministers of Latvia and Estonia also said in a joint statement prior to the meeting that they "strongly condemn the detention of peaceful protesters in Russia" and that "the EU must be decisive in imposing restrictive measures against Russian officials responsible for arrests".
Russia has meanwhile accused Western countries of interfering in its domestic affairs and of encouraging people to break the law and protest.
The US embassy in Moscow on Saturday published a map of the protest, urging US citizens to stay away from the area, which Moscow argued is proof Washington encouraged the unauthorized demonstrations.
"The US embassy in Russia has once again posted detailed information regarding time and locations of unauthorized mass rallies. This is in line with Washington's provocative policy of encouraging protests in countries whose governments are seen by the US as undesirable," Russia's Foreign Ministry tweeted.
The Russian embassy in the UK also said it amounted to "a professionally prepared provocation, encouraged by Western countries, including the US embassy in Moscow."
Also on the agenda at today's meeting of foreign ministers is the COVAX scheme — a global initiative to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, to which the EU is the biggest single donor at €500m.
EU countries are rolling out their vaccination programs, while those on the outside wait for COVAX to start. Countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia are yet to receive a single dose.
Under discussion will be how the EU is helping its neighbors to get hold of vaccines, especially those Balkan states that are looking to join the EU in the future. Although, this comes at a time that members are facing delays in their own supplies of the jabs. — Euronews
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