Polish president calls on EU to step up sanctions on Russia

President Andrzej Duda has called on the European Union to impose tighter sanctions against Russia after the arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Navalny was detained on January 17 after flying home for the first time since being poisoned with what the West says was a military-grade nerve agent.

Protests took place across Russia on Saturday demanding the release of the jailed opposition leader. More than 3,500 people were arrested.

EU foreign ministers were scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss a response to the arrest.

According to Duda, talks about new sanctions on Russia would be “absolutely justified”, owing to not only Navalny’s treatment but also Russia's involvement in unresolved conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine.

The president told the Financial Times newspaper on Sunday that sanctions would exert pressure on a state breaking international law.

"As long as international law is observed, there is no war,” he said. “If international law is broken, the effect of this is always conflict.

"The only way to avoid this without using rifles, cannons, and bombs is via sanctions," Duda continued, adding that Poland was ready to help build a consensus on measures against Russia.

Sanctions on the Russian gas giant Gazprom, for example, would exert pressure on the Kremlin, said the president. He claimed that if Gazprom's operations in the EU were limited, this could help human and political rights in Russia since such a move would seriously harm Russian economic interests.

The president added that Poland's tough position (on Russia) was shared by some EU countries, especially the Baltic states, but admitted that the EU was deeply divided over its politics towards the Kremlin.

The Polish president also said that, in his opinion, a visit to Russia next month by Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, would be “a mistake”.

Duda explained that Russia could not be trusted, since it did not share the same democratic values and goals as Euroatlantic states, and added that for a number of years it had demonstrated that its imperial ambitions have returned.