Brussels/Moscow, Jan 22 (efe-epa).- The President of the European Council Charles Michel on Friday expressed the “grave concern” of the European Union to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and called for his immediate release.
In a phone conversation with Putin, Michel also sought an investigation into the assassination attempt against Nalavny “in full transparency and without further delay,” according to a statement by the European Council.
“EU is united in its call on Russia to swiftly release Mr Navalny,” the EC president said.
Michel also expressed his intention to organize a “strategic debate” on EU-Russia ties during the upcoming summit of the leaders of the 27 EU members states – the European Council – in March.
After a video-conference of EU members to discuss the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, on Thursday night Michel had issued a similar statement in a press conference.
Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 the moment he arrived in Moscow from Germany, where he had received treatment and rehabilitation procedures after having survived being poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in an assassination attempt that he claims was personally ordered by Putin.
On Thursday Michel had urged Moscow to fully cooperate with the EU for the prohibition of chemical weapons to ensure “an impartial international investigation” into the attack against Navalny.
Michel’s statement comes soon after the European Parliament urged the EU member states to take an “active stance” on the arrest of Navalny and his followers – including journalists, members of his team and common citizens – and to “significantly strengthen the EU’s restrictive measures vis-à-vis Russia.”
The resolution, which was passed with 581 votes in favor, 50 against and 44 abstentions, called for sanctions against “individuals and legal entities” involved in Navalny’s arrest and imprisonment.
It lists possible targets for the sanctions, including “Russian oligarchs linked to the regime, members of President Putin’s inner circle and Russian media propagandists, who possess assets in the EU and can currently travel there.”
After years of deteriorating ties, European lawmakers also stressed the importance of “critically reviewing” cooperation with Russia on different foreign policy platforms and projects such as Nord Stream 2 – a gas pipeline between Russia and Germany – on which work has to be stopped immediately according to the resolution.
“The EU should no longer be a welcoming place for Russian wealth of unclear origin,” the lawmakers stressed.
Meanwhile the Kremlin on Friday continued its hard stance against protests called by Navalny’s supporters on Saturday demanding his release.
“The only appropriate stance is in favor of abiding by the law and against the organization of unauthorized activities, let alone attempts to incite young people and children to take part in them,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to the state-owned TASS news agency.
The presidential spokesperson defended earlier warnings by Russian prosecutors and Moscow police against holding the protests and said police authorities did not need authorization by Kremlin to take action against protesters.
On Thursday, Russian authorities had launched a crackdown against some of Navalny’s main aides in a bid to suppress Saturday’s protests.
The police have rounded up several pro-opposition activists, including Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh, who narrated her ordeal a series of tweets, while Lyubov Sobol – the lawyer of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation – has also been arrested on charges of organizing unauthorized protests.
On Friday, Yarmysh tweeted that she had been sentenced to nine days in prison, while reiterating the call for protesters to gather on 11 am on Saturday on the main streets of their respective cities in Russia.
Moscow has urged web platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Google and Mail-Group to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd,” with the prosecutor general’s office calling for curbs against the websites and social networks if they are used to organize protests.
Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (SFP), which had issued a search and capture order for the opposition politician, accuses Navalny of failing to comply with a suspended 3.5-year jail sentence handed down against him in 2014 and asked the justice system to order that he be returned to prison. EFE-EPA