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EU accepts sanctions against Burmese army and Russian officials

European Union foreign ministers have agreed to impose sanctions on the Burmese military for its coup earlier this month and to suspend some development aid, as well as to put on a blacklist of Russian officials for the imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny.

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

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

On February 1, the military arrested civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup that drew widespread international condemnation. He has since launched an increasingly bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters who have taken to the streets in droves to denounce the takeover.

The UK, Canada, New Zealand and the US have all announced targeted sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders, including Chief 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 cede power to a winner.

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

Diplomats have not named those targeted, but this limited measure looks set to disappoint those calling for a firm response against Moscow.

Navalny’s associates and European lawmakers had urged ministers meeting in Brussels to attack oligarchs accused of financing President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the sanctions were aimed at sending a “statement that we are not ready to accept certain things”.

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

Borrell has not confirmed the number of people to target. He said he would officially propose the names to be sanctioned and hoped the measures would be in place within a week.

“We need to punish people who are directly linked to his arrest, conviction, persecution,” Borrell said.

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

Moods towards Moscow hardened across the EU after Borrell was ambushed diplomatically during a trip to Moscow this month, in which the Kremlin expelled three European diplomats.

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

In October, the EU blacklisted six officials for the August poisoning of Navalny with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent.

Navalny, Putin’s most prominent national critic, was this month jailed for nearly three years after returning to Russia after being treated in Germany for his poisoning.

His imprisonment sparked protests across the country that saw security forces armed with batons detain thousands of people.

Two of Navalny’s closest associates called for sanctions against Putin’s upper circle – including the oligarchs – during a meeting with eight EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Sunday.

“If it’s just 10 Kremlin officials who are not traveling abroad and have no assets abroad, then, indeed, it wouldn’t be painful,” said the senior aide of Navalny, Leonid Volkov.

Venezuela, Belarus

EU ministers also added 19 Venezuelan officials to a blacklist for “undermining democracy” and human rights violations after the EU dismissed the December parliamentary elections as undemocratic.

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

Ministers also watched China’s crackdown on Hong Kong as the EU grappled with whether it should step up its response now that Beijing is tightening its grip.

Borrell said Brussels would seek to support Hong Kong civil society as a first step and consider more measures if the situation deteriorates.




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