Canada joined an international conference call this morning to discuss the plight of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and talk about next steps in the wake of Russia’s move to expel European Union diplomats last week.
The 44-year-old anti-corruption investigator — one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics — was arrested in mid-January after returning from Germany, where he’d spent five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have denied the accusation.
A Moscow court ruled last week that, while in Germany, Navalny violated the probation terms of his suspended sentence for a 2014 money-laundering conviction and ordered him to serve two years and eight months in prison.
The ruling has prompted international scorn.
“Canada condemns the decision by Russia to extend the detention of Alexei Navalny. Russian authorities must immediately release him. His ongoing persecution, in light of the failure to adequately investigate his poisoning, underscores the political motivations behind his imprisonment,” reads a statement issued by Global Affairs Canada today.
“We also call on Russia to bring to justice those responsible for crimes against Mr. Navalny and the use of chemical weapons.”
That statement followed a video call this morning between representatives of the European Union, Britain, the United States, Canada and Ukraine to discuss a possible joint response to Navalny’s jailing last week. Canada was represented on the call by Ailish Campbell, the ambassador-designate to the European Union.
The representatives also discussed Russia’s decision Friday to expel diplomats from Sweden, Poland and Germany after accusing them of attending a rally in support of Navalny.
Those three European countries expelled three Russian diplomats in a coordinated act of retaliation today.
EU foreign policy chief hints at sanctions
Today’s meeting was one of the first forums for allied nations to consider a joint response to Navalny’s jailing last week and to Friday’s expulsions — which took place while the EU’s top diplomat was visiting Moscow.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a blog post late Sunday that the expulsions and the denial of his request to visit Navalny confirmed his view that “Europe and Russia are drifting apart.”
“Russia is progressively disconnecting itself from Europe and looking at democratic values as an existential threat,” wrote Borrell.
“It will be for member states to decide the next steps, and yes, these could include sanctions.”
Last week, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Romania and the Czech Republic pushed for fresh sanctions on Russia.
Germany, Italy and France have suggested giving the Kremlin more time to reconsider its decision to imprison Navalny.
Last week, Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong urged the federal government to invoke sanctions under Canada’s so-called Magnitsky law, which allows the government to impose financial and other restrictions on foreign nationals responsible for, or complicit in, violating internationally recognized human rights.
“For weeks, tens of thousands of Russians have been engaged in peaceful, nationwide protests in support of Alexei Navalny. At least 5,000 people have been detained, including dozens of journalists; many have been beaten and abused,” said Chong in a media statement Friday.
“Conservatives are calling on the Liberal government to apply Magnitsky sanctions in coordination with our partners and allies, on Russian officials involved in these human rights violations that have been going on for too long.”
Magnitsky sanctions are named after Russian tax adviser Sergei Magnitsky, who was tortured and died in a Moscow prison after documenting fraud in Russia.