BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Two allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny urged Western envoys to impose sanctions on senior Russian business and political figures, judges and security chiefs during a video call, Western diplomats said on Tuesday.
The appeal for sanctions by Vladimir Ashurkov and Leonid Volkov during Monday’s call was denounced by Moscow on Tuesday as treachery.
Ashurkov and Volkov joined the video call with European Union states and envoys from Britain, the United States, Canada and Ukraine to propose names of senior figures in business, political and security circles who could face sanctions, according to two Western diplomats who were on the call.
EU foreign ministers are set to meet on Feb. 22 to consider their response to Navalny’s jailing last week, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Washington will coordinate to hold the Kremlin accountable.
Navalny was arrested in January after returning to Russia for the first time since being poisoned last August in Siberia with what many Western countries said was a nerve agent.
Navalny blamed President Vladimir Putin for the attack but the Kremlin has dismissed the accusations and questioned whether the opposition politician was really poisoned. His arrest and imprisonment has caused big protests in Russia.
The two Western diplomats declined to disclose names, but said Volkov and Ashurkov told the video call that sanctions should target the assets and freedom to travel of those affected.
The aim would be to weaken those who have amassed fortunes and influence while ordinary Russians struggle to make ends meet.
RIA news agency quoted Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying Navalny’s allies had received instructions on how to disrupt Russian politics during Monday’s video call.
She described members of Navalny’s Anti-corruption Foundation as “agents of influence” acting on behalf of the NATO military alliance.
As the West considers a new round of sanctions, the EU’s foreign policy coordinator, Josep Borrell, faces calls to resign after a visit to Moscow last Friday which EU lawmakers said was a mistake.
During Borrell’s talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Moscow expelled three EU diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden, provoking tit-for-tat expulsions by Berlin, Warsaw and Stockholm.
Borrell, who will address the European Parliament on Tuesday, said he learned of the expulsions by Russia through social media.
Estonia’s former defence chief Riho Terras, now an EU lawmaker, said he had the support of 81 of the parliament’s 705 lawmakers to demand Borrell’s resignation, although some former officials said the issue was a distraction.
“Lavrov clearly got what he wanted: namely divide and rule,” former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said on Twitter. “Instead of focussing on what the EU should do with Russia we are now debating on whether (Borrell) should have visited at all.”
Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels and Anton Kolodyazhnyy in Moscow, Editing by Timothy Heritage
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