EU agrees to sanctions on Myanmar military, Russian officials

Bloc says it decided to apply sanctions targeting the military and its economic interests following February 1 coup.

EU foreign ministers met at the EU headquarters in Brussels [Johanna Geron/Pool/AFP]

European Union foreign ministers have agreed to impose sanctions on Myanmar’s military over its coup earlier this month and withhold some development aid, as well as blacklist Russian officials for the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny.

The bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday the EU would not curb trade ties with Myanmar as that could hit the general population.

“We took the political agreement to apply sanctions targeting the military responsible for the coup and their economic interests,” Borrell said. “All direct financial support from our development system to the government reform programmes is withheld.”

The military on February 1 arrested civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup that has drawn widespread international condemnation. It has since launched an increasingly bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators who have taken to the streets en masse to denounce the takeover.

The United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States have all announced targeted sanctions on Myanmar’s military leaders, including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Despite the growing backlash, the military – known locally as Tatmadaw – has ignored calls for a return to civilian rule, saying it will hold new elections and hand over power to a winner.

Separately, European diplomats told AFP news agency the sanctions against Russian senior officials would target four people deemed responsible for persecuting Navalny, using the EU’s new human rights regime adopted last year.

The diplomats did not name the targeted individuals but the limited move looks set to disappoint those calling for a tough response against Moscow.

Navalny’s associates and European lawmakers had urged the ministers meeting in Brussels to go after oligarchs accused of funding President Vladimir Putin’s rule.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the sanctions were intended to send a “statement that we are not prepared to accept certain things”.

“But it is also necessary that we continue to have a dialogue with Russia,” he said.

Borrell did not confirm the number of people to be targeted. He said he would officially put forward the names to be sanctioned and hoped the measures would be in place within a week.

“We have to sanction the people who are directly connected to his arrest, his sentencing, his persecution,” Borrell said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko dismissed the move as a “broken record” in comments to state news agency RIA Novosti.

The mood towards Moscow hardened across the EU after Borrell was caught in a diplomatic ambush on a trip to Moscow this month, during which the Kremlin expelled three European diplomats.

The bloc has already hit Russia with waves of sanctions over the 2014 annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The EU in October put six officials on a blacklist over the August poisoning of Navalny with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent.

Navalny, Putin’s most prominent domestic critic, was this month jailed for almost three years after returning to Russia following treatment in Germany for his poisoning.

His jailing sparked nationwide protests that saw baton-wielding security forces detain thousands of people.

Two of Navalny’s closest associates pressed for sanctions against Putin’s top circle – including oligarchs – at a meeting with eight EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Sunday.

“If it’s just 10 Kremlin officials who don’t travel abroad and don’t have assets abroad, then, indeed, it would not be painful,” Navalny’s key aide Leonid Volkov told journalists.

Venezuela, Belarus

European ministers also added 19 Venezuelan officials to a blacklist for “undermining democracy” and human rights abuses after the EU rejected legislative elections in December as undemocratic.

The bloc discussed the continuing repression in Belarus and said it would consider the need to introduce a fourth round of sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.

Ministers also eyed China’s crackdown on Hong Kong as the EU attempts to gauge whether it should beef up its response now that Beijing is tightening its grip.

Borrell said Brussels would look to support Hong Kong’s civil society as a first step and would consider more measures if the situation deteriorated.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies