EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell talks to the press as he arrives to…
EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell talks to the press as he arrives to attend an EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels, Feb. 22, 2021. (Photo by Yves Herman/Pool/AFP)

PARIS - European Union foreign ministers in Brussels were to weigh in Monday on targeted sanctions against Russia and Myanmar, during a meeting that included their first virtual gathering with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

At issue for the Europeans is Myanmar’s coup earlier this month, and Russia’s recent jailing of top opposition figure Alexey Navalny — both of which have drawn widespread international condemnation. Last week, the European Court of Human Rights called on Russia to free Navalny. 

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny gestures as he posed for photographers standing in a glass enclosure at the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 20, 2021.
Moscow Appeals Court Upholds Navalny's Prison Sentence
The Kremlin critic is ordered to serve 2½ years in a penal colony for allegedly violating the parole terms of a 2014 suspended sentence on embezzlement charges

Arriving at the Brussels meeting, European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who recently made a controversial trip to Moscow, addressed the deepening rift.

“It’s clear Russia is on a confrontational course with the European Union. In the case of Mr. Navalny, there is a blunt refusal to respect their engagements, including the refusal to take into account the decision of the European Court of Human Rights,” said Borrell. 

Analyst Nicu Popescu, who heads the European Council on Foreign Relations’  Wider Europe program, says EU sanctions may not sway Russia. He says Moscow has been hoarding cash to prepare for a more hostile relationship with the West – but he also says the sanctions may help protect Navalny. 

"I don’t think …the sanctions will have an impact on whether Russia releases Navalny or keeps him longer— I think the Russia authorities will just do what they consider necessary to do for themselves," said Popescu. "But what happens to Navalny in prison is somewhat dependent on the degree of international attention to this issue.” 

European leaders are expected to make a final decision on sanctions at a summit next month. A foreign ministers’ statement Monday said the 27-member bloc was also ready to impose sanctions against those directly responsible for Myanmar’s coup, and called for de-escalatjng the crisis. 

Buddhist monks and demonstrators stage a "sit-down" strike in Mandalay, Feb. 22, 2021, to protest against the Feb. 1 military coup which toppled Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi's government.
In Pictures: Nationwide General Strike against Military Coup in Myanmar
The strike was called for Sunday by the activist group Gen Z and the Civil Disobedience Movement, urging people to come together for a “spring revolution” on the “Five Twos,” a reference to the digits in Monday’s date, 22/2/2021.

"What’s happening there it’s terrible, it’s also deteriorating," said Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde. "And we’re going to take (European) Council decisions when it comes to Myanmar.”

The Brussels meeting also tackled other hot-button issues: Venezuela’s crisis, China’s crackdown on Hong Kong and the Iran nuclear deal. The Biden administration says it is willing to join EU-brokered talks with Iran on reviving the 2015 agreement. A new temporary deal on International Atomic Energy Agency inspections with Tehran may also increase chances of talks, but key obstacles remain. 

Secretary of State Blinken spoke with the EU ministers via video link, underscoring warming transatlantic ties under President Biden.