EU foreign ministers have agreed to prepare fresh sanctions on Russia over the poisoning of leading dissident Alexei Navalny, EU external affairs chief Josep Borrell announced on Monday, despite Moscow's insistence it was not involved.
The bloc's top diplomats gave the green light at a meeting in Luxembourg for a list of names to be drawn up by officials, Borrell said, after France and Germany submitted proposals for new asset freezes or travel bans last week.
Navalny, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin and prominent anti-corruption campaigner, fell ill on a domestic flight in Siberia on 20 August and was transported to Germany for treatment in a comatose state two days later.
Berlin and Paris believe that the poisoning could only have happened with the involvement of Russian authorities, and accuse Moscow of failing to thoroughly investigate or offer a plausible alternative explanation.
Last week, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found that the Soviet-developed nerve agent Novichok - a banned warfare agent - was used in the attack.
Germany's top diplomat Heiko Maas said it "was extremely important that the European Union shows unity on such a serious crime, such a breach of international law against the Convention on Chemical Weapons."
The EU has already sanctioned Russian army officials over the use of Novichok in a 2018 attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.
These punitive measures were renewed on Monday within the framework of the bloc's anti-chemical-weapons regime.
Tensions in Belarus
Ministers in Luxembourg also discussed ongoing tensions in Belarus following a disputed election in August and gave the go-ahead for work to begin on a new package of sanctions that will target President Alexander Lukashenko himself, Borrell said.
Sunday in Belarus marked the ninth consecutive weekend of protests since the August 9 poll, in which Lukashenko claims he received 80 per cent of the vote, while the opposition says the true winner is exiled leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
The Belarusian premier - initially spared inclusion from EU sanctions imposed earlier this month in response to a crackdown on protesters - "lacks any democratic legitimacy" in the EU's eyes, Borrell said.
In light of ongoing repression, the bloc is prepared to add further "entities and high-ranking officials" to the 40 names already on an EU black list, a joint statement explained.
The EU has not recognized the election results.
Lukashenko, 66, has led Belarus, a former Soviet republic between Russia and EU member state Poland, for more than a quarter of a century, tolerating little dissent.