- EU ministers agree sanctions in mainly symbolic move.
- Navalny aide says sanctions might weaken Putin.
- Polish president says conditions for diplomacy worsening.
BRUSSELS: European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday to prepare sanctions on four senior Russian officials in a mainly symbolic response to the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, three EU diplomats said.
Ministers reached political agreement during their meeting on Monday after France, Germany, Poland and the Baltics urged the 27-member bloc to send a message to President Vladimir Putin that debate and protest must be allowed in Russia.
No names were discussed during the meeting in Brussels, but one diplomat said the head of Russia's Investigative Committee, which handles probes into major crimes, the director of prisons, the director of Russia's National Guard and the prosecutor general were to be targeted with travel bans and asset freezes.
Despite calls by Navalny's closest aides for the EU to target members of Russia's business elite close to Putin, EU governments have argued in favour of targeting senior officials because such sanctions can better withstand legal challenges.
Navalny was detained after returning to Russia from Germany last month and jailed on Feb. 2 for violating the terms of parole on what he says was a politically motivated conviction.
Navalny had been recovering in Germany from being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent and has accused the Kremlin of trying to kill him, a charge Moscow denies.
Russia accuses the EU of meddling in its affairs.