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Lithuanian FM Calls For Further Russia Sanctions Over Navalny 'Mock Trial'

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis has reiterated his call for the European Union to impose further sanctions on Russia following the arrest of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny and said the bloc should scrap consideration of a trip by foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to Moscow next month.

Speaking in an interview with RFE/RL in Brussels on January 21, four days after Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow after being treated in Germany for a nearly fatal poisoning with a nerve agent in August 2020, Landsbergis said he hopes the Putin critic will be released "soon," though the prospects are doubtful.

“I think that on Monday (January 25) he still will be in jail. I think that he'll stay in jail up until February 2 when [a court hearing] is due. And it is very likely that during his court proceedings, he would be sentenced for a long time in jail,” the Lithuanian diplomat said.

Navalny is accused of violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a previous criminal case because he left the country.

The 44-year-old was airlifted to Germany in August 2020 to be treated after being poisoned during a trip in Siberia. When he returned on January 17 after recovering, he was arrested at a Moscow airport. A day later he was remanded in custody for 30 days.

A court is expected to decide on February 2 whether to convert into prison time the suspended 3 1/2 year sentence that Navalny served in an embezzlement case that is widely considered trumped up and politically motivated. The suspended sentence ended on December 30, 2020.

Navalny’s case is likely to dominate an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on January 25 amid growing calls for the bloc to expand asset freezes and travel bans already imposed on Russian individuals and entities held responsible for the poisoning to include those involved in the decision to arrest Navalny and what Landsbergis called his “mock trial.”

The EU “should really be heading” toward imposing additional sanctions on Russia, said Landsbergis, who expressed reservations about whether all 27 EU member states are “prepared yet” for such a move.

The January 25 meeting in Brussels is also expected to include a discussion over a potential trip to Moscow by Borrell in early February.

EU officials familiar with the matter have told RFE/RL that some member states feel that such a trip would be particularly useful after Navalny’s arrest, though it has met strong resistance from the three Baltic states -- Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

“My personal point of view is that it's a very unfortunate time to go to Moscow because apparently Russia is raising the bar and seeing how much abuse towards the values that we hold dear can we take and not do anything,” Landsbergis said.

He also criticized Germany’s resistance to growing calls for a halt in the construction of the near-complete Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would carry Russian natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

“Every country needs to answer to itself: how much abuse can we take?” he asked.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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