Brussels - EU foreign ministers have agreed to prepare fresh sanctions on Russia over the poisoning of leading dissident Alexei Navalny, diplomatic sources confirmed to dpa on Monday, despite Moscow's insistence it was not involved.
The agreement came at a meeting in Luxembourg where France and Germany were due to outline a proposal for sanctions, made last week after an investigation found that Navalny was poisoned with the chemical nerve agent Novichok.
The two countries 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.
Navalny, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin and prominent anti-corruption campaigner, fell ill on a domestic flight in Siberia on August 20 and was transported to Germany for treatment in a comatose state two days later.
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.
In light of this, Germany's top diplomat, Heiko Maas, said on Monday that it was "now objectively clear that there was a breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention. One which cannot go without consequences."
The ministers also discussed the EU's response to ongoing tensions in Belarus following a disputed election in August.
Before the meeting wrapped up, the bloc's foreign minsters agreed that they are prepared to slap restrictive measures on more individuals linked to the repression of protesters - including President Alexander Lukashenko - if the situation does not improve.
The EU "strongly condemns the violence employed by the Belarusian authorities against peaceful protesters, and calls for the release of all arbitrarily detained persons, including political prisoners," according to a joint statement signed off by EU foreign ministers.
The bloc is prepared to add further "entities and high-ranking officials" to the 40 names already on an EU black list, according to the statement.
Sunday in Belrus was 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 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.