The European Union Foreign Ministers, meeting this Monday in Brussels, have agreed to launch the new sanctions regime for human rights violations with a list of people linked to the Kremlin .

The decision, which should be officially finalized in the coming days, comes after the recent head-on clash in Moscow between the EU’s high representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, on account of the imprisonment of the opponent Russian Alexei Navalni and the repression of some of his supporters.

The agreement reached, according to diplomatic sources, clears the way for a new round of sanctions . And it illustrates the growing deterioration in the relationship between Brussels and Moscow. In addition to the trade sanctions imposed by the Russian aggression against the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the EU has already banned the entry and has decreed the freezing of their assets on EU territory to more than 180 senior officials of the Russian Administration. The list will now be expanded with another list of names that will be based on the new instrument of sanctions for violation of human rights.

The punishment, however, is more symbolic than real. The additional list with a handful of names seems to make little impression on the Kremlin hierarchies. This same Monday, the Russian ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, underestimated in an interview what he described as “a new round of illegitimate and unilateral restrictive measures against Russia, which cannot be called sanctions because sanctions are the exclusive prerogative of the United Nations Security Council ”.

Most European partners are alarmed by what they see as an aggressive and authoritarian drift from the current Russian president. But the big capitals, with Berlin at the fore, advocate a very gradual response and in no case endanger the bilateral relationship with the neighboring country. Partners who feel the most vulnerable, such as Poland and the Baltic countries, instead advocate a strong response that will keep any extraterritorial temptation from Moscow at bay.

The Twenty-seven have chosen a middle way, closer to the postulates of Berlin. And they will apply selective punishment focused on a handful of senior Russian officials who can be shown to be linked to Navalni’s imprisonment and the repression of protesters.

The sanctions regime for human rights violations was approved last December and allows the individual responsible for the alleged violations to be punished. The mechanism, which emulates the so-called Magnitski law of the United States, seeks to focus punishment on specific people without the need to establish a sanctions regime against their country of origin.

It is the fourth sanctioning regime applied to Russia since 2014, when economic reprisals were decreed for the occupation and annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. In 2019, the EU launched with Russian and Syrian officials its new sanctions regime for attacks with chemical weapons, also wielded at the end of last year to punish the poisoning of Navalni. And in 2020, the EU also launched its sanctions regime for cyber attacks with Russia.

Brussels insists that sanctions are not an end in themselves, but rather an instrument to change the behavior or practices of the country being punished. But in the case of Russia, repeated community reprisals have so far failed to change the international policy of its president, Vladimir Putin, who is blamed by Brussels for interference in Western democratic processes, attacks with chemical weapons on EU territory, harassment. neighboring countries (such as Ukraine or Georgia) and military interventions in conflicts such as Syria or Libya.

The European Foreign Ministers also agreed on Monday to expand the list of sanctions against the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela after the elections to the National Assembly on December 6 . The EU has added 19 other senior Venezuelan officials to the list of people who are prohibited from entering the 27 member states and who must freeze their assets in European territory.

The punishment, according to the ministers, is due to the fact that those positions undermined the democratic rights of the Venezuelan opposition in elections that, according to Brussels, did not meet minimum standards of plurality and transparency.

The new sanctions bring Venezuelan authorities on the list to 55. The EU began adopting restrictive measures against the Maduro regime in 2017.