The EU has accused Russia of seeking confrontation after the Kremlin sanctioned senior officials in Brussels and the president of the European parliament in a retaliatory move.
In a joint statement by Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel and David Sassoli, the heads of the European commission, council and parliament said Moscow’s action on Friday had been “groundless”.
The three leaders of the EU institutions said the 27-member-state bloc was now prepared to take further action against Russia in the latest phase of a steady deterioration of relations in recent months. The EU’s response to the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny has until now been widely criticised for its lack of bite.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms today’s decision of the Russian authorities to ban eight European Union nationals from entering the Russian territory,” the EU leaders said in a statement. “This action is unacceptable, lacks any legal justification and is entirely groundless. It targets the European Union directly, not only the individuals concerned.
“This decision is the latest, striking demonstration of how the Russian Federation has chosen confrontation with the EU instead of agreeing to redress the negative trajectory of our bilateral relations. The EU reserves the right to take appropriate measures in response to the Russian authorities’ decision.”
The EU response followed an announcement by the Kremlin that eight senior figures in the bloc’s institutions had been put on a travel blacklist preventing them from travelling to Russia in retaliation for EU sanctions over Navalny’s imprisonment.
The Russian foreign ministry claimed the EU had been seeking to punish Moscow for its “independent foreign and domestic policies”, citing EU sanctions imposed on six Russian officials in March over Navalny’s imprisonment.
“All our proposals for settling problems between Russia and the EU through a direct professional dialogue have been consistently ignored or rejected,” the Russian ministry said.
Věra Jourová, the EU commissioner for values and transparency, who is from the Czech Republic, said she was “pleased to be in such good company”, referring to the other officials prohibited from entering Russia.
“I will continue to stand up for human rights, for media freedom and for democracy,” she said. “Russia‘s constant efforts to sow disinformation and to undermine human rights deserve strong and continuous reaction. If this is the price for telling the truth, then I will gladly pay it.”