The EU will pursue fresh sanctions against Russia, a reaction to the jailing of dissident Alexei Navalny, diplomatic sources confirmed on Monday after a vote by EU foreign ministers, in a move that may well ramp up tensions with Moscow.
"It is clear that Russia is on a confrontational course with the European Union," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said before talks with the 27 ministers in Brussels.
The go-ahead from ministers paves the way for measures like asset freezes or travel bans targeting those linked to the imprisonment of the prominent Kremlin critic.
Details would be worked out in the coming weeks. It is thought the bloc could use its new global human rights violations sanctions tool for the first time since its creation in December.
Russia previously threatened to retaliate or even cut ties if fresh EU sanctions are applied.
After surviving a nerve agent poison attack and receiving treatment in Germany, Navalny returned to Russia in mid-January and was immediately arrested.
He has since been sentenced to a prison term on charges of violating parole for a 2014 fraud conviction, which itself was found to be arbitrary by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
EU states have been calling for his release, to no avail, amid a wave of pro-Navalny protests in Russia that has been met with thousands of arrests. The ECHR, which is not an EU institution but is linked to the Council of Europe rights body, also ordered his freedom last week.
The EU claims the charges against Navalny are politically motivated.
Together with developments in Belarus, the anti-corruption campaigner's case is the latest flashpoint in EU-Russian relations. The bloc already applied sanctions against Moscow for its role in the Ukraine conflict, as well as for the anti-corruption campaigner's poisoning.
A number of foreign ministers voiced their support for new restrictive measures on the way into Monday's talks, including German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
However, "we must look for ways to stay in dialogue with Moscow. We need Russia to resolve many international conflicts," Maas urged.
Despite relations reaching a "low point," in the words of the top German diplomat, the EU depends on Russia's cooperation for issues like the Iran nuclear deal.
In comments to Germany's Welt newspaper on Monday, Russia's EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov warned that Moscow "will be ready to respond" if the EU opts for "another round of illegitimate unilateral restrictive measures."