BRUSSELS, Belgium - In a largely symbolic move, foreign ministers of the European Union agreed this week to sanction four Russian officials who are close to President Vladimir Putin, following the jailing of prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Prior to the move by the foreign ministers, France, Germany, Poland and the Baltic states recommended that the 27-member union deliver a message to Putin that protests and debates must be allowed in Russia.
Navalny had been hospitalized in January in Germany after being poisoned while in Siberia. Upon returning to Russia he was promptly arrested.
Protests throughout Russia followed Navalny's arrest.
"The relations (with Russia) are certainly at a low, there is no other word for it," according to German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
Among those Russian officials being targeted is Alexander Bastrykin, who heads investigations into major crimes and reports directly to Putin.
Bastrykin was previously sanctioned by Britain.
Igor Krasnov, Russia's prosecutor-general, is also to be sanctioned.
Additionally, Viktor Zolotov, head of Russia's National Guard, is to be sanctioned by the EU. In 2018 he publicly threatened Navalny with violence.
Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief, has said the sanctions should be ready next week.
The EU earlier approved procedures to take measures targeting human rights violators worldwide.