Foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg agreed in principle to sanctions proposals for Russia over poisoning of opposition leader Alexey Navalny as well as against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko for alleged rigging in August elections.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell rings a bell to signal the start of a meeting of European Union foreign ministers at the European Council building in Luxembourg, October 12, 2020.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell rings a bell to signal the start of a meeting of European Union foreign ministers at the European Council building in Luxembourg, October 12, 2020. (AP)

The EU has lined up sanctions against Russian officials over the poisoning of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and against Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko over the crisis in his country.

Foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg agreed in principle to sanctions proposals made last week by France and Germany, which said Russia was responsible for the poisoning of Navalny with the Soviet-developed nerve agent Novichok, three diplomatic sources said.

On Belarus, the ministers said they were ready to sanction strongman leader Lukashenko, as the bloc seeks to step up pressure over his regime's crackdown on protesters.

The EU has already imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 40 Lukashenko allies for rigging an election in August that returned him to power and then orchestrating a crackdown on the mass protests that have rocked the country since the vote.

READ MORE: Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny says Putin behind his poisoning

Novichok plot 

Germany and France last week accused Moscow of responsibility for poisoning Navalny with the Soviet-developed Novichok nerve agent, saying "no credible explanation has been provided by Russia."

Navalny fell ill on a flight in Siberia on August 20, and was subsequently airlifted to Berlin for treatment where blood samples confirmed the presence of the poison.

Western governments and NATO had said Russia must help in investigations or face consequences, however, Moscow denied any involvement.

After Monday's political green light, technical work will be started to prepare the sanctions, with one diplomat saying they hoped it would move quickly.

READ MORE: UN urges Russia to conduct independent investigation in Navalny poisoning

Chemical weapon sanctions 

The ministers on Monday extended the EU's chemical weapons sanctions framework, under which four Russians accused of involvement in the Novichok poisoning of an ex-double agent in England have already been listed.

Sanctions related to the Navalny case will be made under this framework, which has also been used against Syrian officials for carrying out chemical weapons attacks on their civil war foes.

The sanctions push came after UN chemical weapons watchdog OPCW confirmed Germany, France and Sweden's finding that the Russian opposition leader was poisoned by a nerve agent of the Soviet-developed Novichok group.

Monday's meeting will also take stock of EU-brokered talks between Serbia and Kosovo, as well as the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

READ MORE: Putin has a chemical weapons problem

Restrictive measures for Minsk

The bloc had held back from penalising Lukashenko, hoping to persuade him to open a dialogue with opposition forces to resolve the crisis.

But a fresh outbreak in Minsk on Sunday — which saw police using water cannon and stun grenades on protesters and making hundreds of arrests — prompted ministers to give political approval to sanctioning the strongman leader.

In their formal conclusions on Belarus, the ministers said the list of sanctioned people and entities would be put "under constant review."

"The EU stands ready to take further restrictive measures, including against entities and high-ranking officials, including A Lukashenko," the ministers said.

READ MORE: Belarus police break up protests with stun grenades, detain many

Germany slams Lukashenko

As he arrived for the meeting in Luxembourg, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had urged his counterparts to expand the sanctions list to include the strongman leader.

"The violence continues, perpetrated by the Lukashenko regime — there are still arrests of peaceful demonstrators, so we have to consider how to proceed," said Maas, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

"I have suggested that we establish a new package of sanctions. And Lukashenko should be among the people who will then be sanctioned."

The EU rejected the results of the August 9 election and said it did not regard Lukashenko as the legitimate president.

The ministers' statement on Monday condemned police violence against protesters and demanded officials seek a peaceful end to the crisis through dialogue with the opposition, backing calls for new elections.

READ MORE: EU sanctions Belarus angering Moscow, Minsk

Source: AFP