Germany and france are to jointly propose targeted eu sanctions against russian officials linked to the poisoning of alexei navalny after moscow failed to provide an adequate explanation of the incident.
In a joint statement on wednesday, the german and french foreign ministers said the proposed measures would target individuals seen as responsible for this crime and this violation of international law, as well as an institution that is involved in the novichok programme.
The statement came a day after the organisation for the prohibition of chemical weapons said mr navalny, a prominent russian opposition activist, had been poisoned with a banned nerve agent from the novichok family confirming the findings of laboratories in germany, france and sweden.
The german foreign minister heiko maas said there had been a grave violation of international law, committed with a chemical nerve agent... and in our view, this cannot remain without consequences.
German officials said possible sanctions, which could involve travel bans and asset freezes, would be discussed by eu foreign ministers in luxembourg on monday.but they made clear they would not include any move to stop nord stream 2, the contentious pipeline that will bring russian gas to germany under the baltic sea.
Pressure has been growing in europe to punish moscow for the attack on mr navalny, who was airlifted to berlin for treatment in august after falling ill during a campaign trip to siberia.
In an interview with the financial times earlier on wednesday, kersti kaljulaid, the president of estonia, said the eu should impose targeted sanctions the sooner the better, once it had established the who, where and how behind the attack.
Mr navalny himself has added his voice to calls for such punitive measures. the most important thing is to impose entry bans on profiteers of the regime and freeze their assets, he told the german daily bild. they embezzle money, steal billions and at the weekend they fly to berlin or london, buy expensive apartments and sit in cafs.
In their joint statement, the foreign ministers said they had repeatedly urged russia to shed light on the circumstances of mr navalnys poisoning and bring those responsible to justice. so far, russia has not provided any credible explanation, it said.
The statement said the attack on mr navalny undermines the fundamental principles of democracy and pluralism and was similar to the novichok attack on the former spy sergei skripal and his daughter yulia in the english city of salisbury in 2018. that incident was also followed by eu sanctions on russian military intelligence officials.
But some critics have argued that sanctions would not be justified in this instance because mr navalny was attacked in russia.
Ms kaljulaid acknowledged there were differences, but [the two cases] are also similar. this doesnt mean you can use chemical weapons against your own people. this is also against international conventions about how we handle chemicals.
Think about other totalitarian regimes who have been using chemical weapons against their own people, she added, drawing parallels with president bashar al-assads regime in syria.
Berlin has long warned of a strong european response to the navalny incident. but it has also sought to shield nord stream 2, saying a moratorium on construction of the pipeline, which involves a clutch of european energy companies, would not be an appropriate reaction.
Yet the case has deepened divisions in the eu between opponents and supporters of the gas project. some, such as the baltic states and poland, have seized on the attack on mr navalny to call for a tougher approach to russian energy imports, while others, fearing the economic impact, are more wary.
On wednesday polands competition watchdog fined russias state-controlled gas giant gazprom 29bn zlotys ($7.6bn) for pressing on with the construction of the nord stream 2 pipeline without securing its approval.
Ms kaljulaid said it was up to germany to decide whether to continue with nord stream 2, which is nearing completion. but she argued the project should not have gone ahead since it was contrary to eu aims to use less polluting energy sources and diversify supplies. our energy market objective is not to be dependent, and to go clean, she said. this project does not fit any of these criteria.
Ms kaljulaid who, in a rare trip for a baltic leader, met mr putin in moscow last year called russia a difficult neighbour. but she insisted she was totally on the same page with countries such as france and finland about the need to keep talking to the kremlin.