The Council held a comprehensive and strategic discussion on EU-Russia relations.
During the debate a shared assessment emerged that Russia was drifting towards an authoritarian state and away from Europe. Ministers restated their unity of intent, and discussed how relations with Russia could develop within the framework of the five guiding principles and focused on: pushing back on infringements of international law and human rights, containing disinformation and cyberattacks, but also engaging on issues of interest to the EU.
In view of the latest developments, ministers agreed to proceed with work on future restrictive measures in response to serious violations of human rights.
In response to the events around the situation of Mr. Navalny we reached a political agreement to impose restrictive measures against those responsible for his arrest, sentencing and persecution. For the first time ever we will make use of the EU Global Human Rights Regime to this end.
Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
They also agreed to increase support to all those engaged in the country in defending the political and civil freedoms.
Video Conference with US State Secretary Antony Blinken
The Council exchanged views, via video conference, with the new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the substantive agenda for EU-US cooperation on key global, foreign and security policy issues.
This was first high-level interaction between the EU and the new US administration, a month from its taking office. The discussion showed the parties' intention not only to deepen the EU-US partnership, but also their intention to form a joint global leadership in fighting the pandemic and dealing with recovery, mitigating climate change and ensuring the promotion of democratic values.
The discussion touched on international opportunities and challenges such as relations with China and Russia, Iran and security and defence.
The Council was informed about the deteriorating situation and agreed on a set of short and longer-term actions, in addition to the initial response package adopted last July.
Immediate measures include increased support to civil society, stepping up coordination with like-minded partners, and outreach to relevant authorities.
The Council also addressed the impact of the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong on the broader relations with China.
High Representative Borrell briefed ministers on Myanmar and the EU's response to the Military coup of 1st February, and the Council adopted conclusions on this issue.
Ministers reached a political agreement to apply sanctions, targeting the military responsible for the coup and their economic interests. It was also decided that all direct financial support from EU development assistance to the country's government’s reform programmes would be withheld. At the same time, it was agreed that the EU would continue to support civil society, and provide basic services to the people of Myanmar.
Ministers exchanged views on the report of the Finnish minister of Foreign Affairs, who visited Sudan and Ethiopia on 7-10 February on behalf of the High Representative. Ministers agreed that full and immediate humanitarian access to Tigray was urgently needed. They also agreed that it was necessary to investigate allegations of human rights violations, end ethnic violence and discrimination, and guarantee the respect of international humanitarian law.
The Council also discussed the situation with Iran, and the worrying recent developments in the nuclear field. The need to bring back full implementation of the JCPOA, both as regards nuclear commitments and when it comes to sanctions lifting, was consistently highlighted.
Finally, the High Representative raised the issue of further deterioration of situation in Belarus and the ongoing crackdown against human right defenders, civil society and journalists. He said that the EU would consider the adoption of further sanctions, and that it would support the Belarusian people in its legitimate request for democracy, by supporting the civil society and by punishing those who deny them the fundamental rights.
The Council adopted conclusions on a human-rights-based post-COVID-19 recovery, and EU priorities in UN human rights fora in 2021.
-22 February 2021