Russia blasts EU sanctions over Navalny crackdown

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was jailed last month after returning to Moscow from Germany. PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia's foreign ministry on Monday (Feb 22) blasted the European Union's decision to impose sanctions on Russian officials over the crackdown on Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and his supporters.

EU foreign ministers earlier Monday agreed to impose sanctions on four senior Russian officials, diplomats told AFP, after Navalny's associates urged the ministers to go after oligarchs accused of funding President Vladimir Putin's rule.

The diplomats did not name the targeted individuals nor give details about them.

In a statement, Russia's foreign ministry called the new sanctions "disappointing" and said they were prepared under a "far-fetched pretext".

"In obedience to bloc school of thought and anti-Russian stereotypes, Brussels is again instinctively pushing the broken sanctions 'button,'" it said.

Navalny was jailed last month after returning to Moscow from Germany, where he had spent months recovering from a poisoning attack he blames on Putin. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied that it was behind the attack.

The imprisoning of Putin's best-known opponent sparked nationwide protests that saw thousands of demonstrators detained and triggered calls in the West for Navalny's release.

A Moscow court on Saturday upheld a ruling to send Navalny to a penal colony for more than two years for violating a 2014 suspended sentence for fraud charges, despite Europe's rights court demanding Russia release the Kremlin critic and deeming the sentence "arbitrary".

"We consider categorically unacceptable the constant unlawful and absurd demands for the 'release' of a citizen of the Russian Federation who was convicted of economic crimes by a Russian court on the territory of our country in accordance with Russian law," Russia's foreign ministry said.

"In international practice, this is called interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state," it added.

The EU earlier sanctioned Russia over the August poisoning of Navalny with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent, putting six Russian officials on a blacklist in October.

The bloc has previously slapped Moscow with various sanctions over the 2014 annexation of Crimea and Russia's role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.