EU foreign ministers are expected to give the go-ahead on February 22 to sanctions on Russia over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and a crackdown on protests.
The top diplomats from the 27-nation bloc meet in Brussels for talks that will also include a wide-ranging videoconference with new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The move to target the Kremlin comes two weeks after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was caught in a diplomatic ambush in Moscow that enraged member states.
Capitals are eyeing using the EU’s new human rights sanctions regime for the first time to hit individuals responsible for the clampdown with asset freezes and visa bans, diplomats said.
A senior European diplomat said: “I expect a political agreement to be reached.
“Then experts from the member states should work on the names.”
The mood towards Moscow has hardened in the wake of Borrell’s disastrous trip to Russia, during which Moscow announced it was expelling three European diplomats and rebuffed talk of cooperation.
A senior EU official said: “They rejected out of hand any dialogue that was proposed.”
The EU has already hit Russia with waves of sanctions over the 2014 annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s fuelling of the war in Ukraine.
The bloc in October slapped six officials on a blacklist over the poisoning of Navalny with Novichok, a nerve agent.
President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic critic was this month jailed for almost three years after returning to Russia following treatment in Germany.
His sentencing sparked nationwide protests that saw baton-wielding security forces detain thousands.
Two of Navalny’s closest allies were set to meet with a dozen EU foreign ministers in Brussels on February 21 to push for sanctions targeting high-profile oligarchs they accuse of funding Putin’s regime.
But diplomats say any measures have to be tied directly to abuses and need to stand up to challenges in court.
While European countries appear to be readying a common front against the Kremlin they are also keen to allow for cooperation on efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal after former US leader Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.
The EU is currently looking to broker a meeting between Washington, Tehran and other signatories – including Moscow – to try to work out how to salvage the 2015 accord.
The repression in Russia is not the only rights issue set to be addressed at the meeting.
A response to a military coup and increasingly lethal crackdown on protesters in Myanmar is to feature on the agenda, as are measures over disputed elections last year in Venezuela.