By RAF CASERT
The EU parliament on Thursday condemned Russia as a "potential threat to the European Union itself" even as the EU foreign policy chief sought to resume dialogue with Moscow to help end the conflict in Ukraine.
The legislature backed a resolution with a show of hands that called for a continuation of the sanctions against Moscow even beyond March, when the first measures will be up for review.
At the same time, the parliament called for diplomatic channels to remain open. EU High Representative Federica Mogherini told lawmakers that the EU must "think of restoring, partially, options and instruments for cooperation on rule of law and the judiciary with Russia."
Russia relations will be at the heart of next Monday's meeting of EU foreign ministers. EU President Donald Tusk has said the 28 nations must "stay the course" on sanctions while others have called for some flexibility in dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The European Parliament called not to lift sanctions until Russia ends its annexation of Crimea. It said if Russian actions on the border of eastern Ukraine continue, then sanctions should be increased in the financial and nuclear sectors.
Parliamentary leaders were scathing of recent judicial actions in Moscow.
Leading Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, a vehement foe of Putin, was convicted in December of fraud and given a 3 ½-year suspended sentence. But the court said he must remain under house arrest until his appeals are exhausted. The Christian Democrat EPP group called the decision politically motivated.
"Those who run Russia today have inherited Stalinist political practices," said parliamentarian Cristian Preda.
In the same court ruling, Navalny's younger brother Oleg was sent to prison, a move that liberal ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt called "particularly cynical and reminiscent of Soviet-era tactics," when family members of opponents were routinely punished.