Navalny’s widow urges EU to sanction enablers of Russian regime

EU to send naval mission to Red Sea while Hungary blocks sanctions on extremist Israeli settlers

The widow of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has urged the European Union to impose sanctions on the key enablers of the regime of president Vladimir Putin, as she announced her intention to carry on her husband’s work.

Invited to address the meeting of 27 EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, Yulia Navalnaya told them that “Putin is not Russia, and Russia is not Putin”, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told reporters.

Inviting Ms Navalnaya was “a way of giving a face and a name to the Russian opposition, and to the fight of Russian people for their failure to have a democratic system in Russia. That’s what Alexei wanted, and that’s why he became a threat to the Kremlin.”

The death of Navalny in prison has led to calls for the EU to reconsider imposing sanctions on a list of individuals and organisations accused by his organisation of complicity in his 2020 poisoning, of corruption and other offences.


Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said that Ms Navalnaya had called for more sanctions on individuals who enable Putin’s regime.

“She was very dignified, very composed. I can only imagine what she is going through. But she clearly wants to continue the struggle of her husband for a better kind of Russia. For a kind of Russia where political disputes are settled at the ballot box, and not with a bullet, as she herself said,” Mr Sikorski said.

“When she says that democratic Russians need individual sanctions on the enablers of the regime, I think we should listen and I think we should do the right thing.”

The EU is currently seeking to agree its 13th round of sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said Ms Navalnaya had reminded the foreign ministers that many Russians want rights that are taken for granted in Europe, such as the freedom to criticise the government.

“I think her presence here is significant, because what has happened reminds us all of the repressive and oppressive nature of the regime in the Russian Federation, and of how President Putin has ruthlessly put down any opposition and suppressed any dissent,” Mr Martin said.

The EU is moving to rename its global human rights sanction regime after Mr Navalny, to keep his memory alive, Mr Borrell said.

Separately, the EU agreed to send a naval mission to the Red Sea to protect commercial trade ships, which have come under attack from Houthi rebels who say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians who are under Israeli bombardment.

The mission, to be called EU Naval Force Operation Aspides, will be headquartered in Greece and will work to “provide maritime situational awareness, accompany vessels and protect them”, the European Council said in a statement.

The meeting also discussed the situation in Gaza. One country, understood to be Hungary, blocked sanctions on extremist settlers in the occupied West Bank responsible for violently driving out Palestinians. The United States and United Kingdom have already imposed such sanctions, but the EU has been unable to find consensus on the issue since it was proposed last year.

Hungary was also the sole country not to agree to an EU statement calling on Israel not to invade Rafah, the small area of Gaza to which much of its civilian population has been driven. The statement was agreed by the remaining 26 member states.

Individual EU countries are now exploring how to co-ordinate to impose travel bans on extremist settlers. Asset freezes, which are a part of EU sanctions, cannot be imposed by individual member states without the agreement of all 27, the Tánaiste told reporters.

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Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times