Foreign ministers from the EU member states met in Brussels on Monday morning to discuss the possibility of enacting further sanctions against Russia following the crackdown against supporters of the Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
The meeting was also set to include a videoconference with the new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The European diplomats were planning on imposing asset freezes and visa bans against individuals responsible for the repressive actions against protesters and Navalny himself.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas spoke to the press before the meeting expressing his support for sanctions as well as keeping dialogue channels with Russia open.
"I am in favor of ordering the preparation of additional sanctions, of listings of specific persons," Maas said on his arrival to the talks.
"At the same time we need to talk about how to keep up a constructive dialogue with Russia, even as relations certainly have reached a low," he added.
EU and Russia on a collision course
Eight EU foreign ministers, as well as several EU ambassadors, met with two of Navalny's close allies on Sunday evening ahead of the talks. One of the allies, Leonid Volkov, disclosed to the AFP news agency that the meeting participants had "talked about targeted personal sanctions against Putin's closest allies and people who are guilty of major human rights violations."
Gabrielius Landsbergis, foreign minister of Lithuania, which organized Sunday's discussion, said "the biggest hope for [Monday] is that we will make a unanimous decision about the list" of people to be sanctioned.
Relations between Russia and the EU continued to collapse despite a visit by EU foreign police chief Josep Borrell to Moscow, widely considered to have been a catastrophe.
Borrell himself admitted as much before Monday's meeting saying: "It's clear that Russia is on a confrontational course with the European Union."
Years of EU sanctions against Russia
The EU slapped sanctions on a series of individuals, including close allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, back in October after the poisoning of the government critic Navalny with the Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent. Russia responded with its own individual sanctions, including the expulsion of three EU diplomats which was announced during Borrell's trip.
Russia had already been hit with sanctions following its annexation of Crimea and its backing of insurgents in Ukraine.
But Russia has also seen a wave of protests after police arrested Navalny on his return to the country after being treated for poisoning in Germany. The political activist was sentenced to almost three years in jail. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Navalny's sentencing was unlawful.
ab/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)