Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The foreign ministers of the European Union on Monday agreed to impose sanctions against the leaders of the Myanmar junta over its coup and Russia for its detention of opposition leader and Vladimir Putin critic Alexey Navalny.
The bloc also blacklisted nearly 20 Venezuelans for undermining democracy in the socialist nation.
Josep Borrell, the high representative of the European Union, told reporters in Brussels that the EU's 27 members agreed to impose targeted sanctions against the Myanmar military amid reports of escalating state violence committed against protesters.
"These events are extremely worrying," he said. "People are being killed in the demonstrations. We strongly condemn this military coup and unacceptable violence against peaceful demonstrators."
At least three civilians have died including two on Saturday amid mass daily protests against the military known as the Tatmadaw since it usurped government control from Myanmar's civilian leaders on Feb. 1, citing irregularities during November's parliamentary election.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation's civilian leader whose party won the elections in a landslide, President U Win Myint and other government officials, activists and journalists have since been arrested.
Myanmar's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has tallied 648 people who have been arrested, charged or sentenced since Feb. 1, an increase of nearly 40 people from Sunday.
The election, Myanmar's second since transitioning from a military dictatorship in 2015, was "an important milestone" in the country's transition, Borrell said earlier this month following the coup in a declaration, rejecting the Tatmadaw's usurpation as illegal and calling on it to return the country to civil rule.
On Monday, he explained the union will also withhold from the Myanmar government all direct financial support from development assistance but it will not restrict all trade out of worries it would affect the population and not the usurpers.
"We are going to target sanctions to the military and to economic interests of the military," Borrell explained Monday. "Because in this country, as in other countries in the world, the military do something more than just taking care of defense, they are also the ones who own or manage an important part of the economy of the country. And we have to target our sanctions in order to affect them, their interests, but not the well-being of the people."
Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States have previously announced sanctions against leaders of the Tatmadaw.
Concerning Russia, Heiko Maas, Germany's foreign minister, said the council sanctioned unnamed individuals involved in the conviction and sentencing of Navalny to more than two years in prison early this month.
"The EU does not want to remain silent on this; we will now draw conclusions from this. It is necessary," he tweeted.
Borrell told reporters there was consensus among the foreign ministers that Russia was sliding toward authoritarianism and was driving away from Europe and is interested in confrontation with the bloc.
The union, he said, confirmed its unity to push back when Russia violates international law and human rights and to contain Russia when it seeks to increase pressure upon the EU through cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns.
The sanctions against the unnamed Russian figures will be the first time the European Union Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime adopted in December will be used, he said.
"These sanctions will be put in the pipeline of our administrative process today under a proposal of the high representative," he said, adding he cannot provide the names of those to be sanctioned.
The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the sanctions in a statement on Monday as "disappointing," stating they are "a far-fetched pretext" to impose restrictions on the Russian people.
"We consider categorically unacceptable constantly sounding illegal and absurd demands for the "liberation" of a citizen of the Russian Federation who was convicted of economic crimes by a Russian court on the territory of our country in accordance with Russian legislation," it said.
Navalny was arrested in mid-January on returning to Russia from Germany where he was being treated for Novichok poisoning in August that put him in a comma. Russia has denied being behind the assassination attempt.
On Feb. 2, he was sentenced for violating parole conditions by going to Germany. He was sentenced in December 2014 to more than three years in prison after being found guilty of embezzling some $470,000 from a cosmetics company, charges that have been called politically motivated by the European Court of Human Rights.
The EU in October sanctioned six government officials over Navalny's poisoning.
The bloc on Monday also sanctioned 19 Venezuelan officials for "undermining democracy and the rule of law in the country."
The sanctions increase the total number of individuals blacklisted by the EU to 55 after the council adopted in late January a resolution to target those responsible for the "deteriorating situation" in Venezuela following December elections that many Western nations, including the bloc, said they would not recognize.
"The individuals added to the list are responsible, notable, for undermining the oppositions' electoral rights and the democratic functioning of the National Assembly, and for serious violations of human rights and restrictions of fundamental freedoms," the EU said in a statement.
Jorge Arreaza, the foreign minister of Venezuela, rejected the imposition of sanctions in a statement on Monday, calling it "unilateral coercive measures."
"Singling out honorable citizens with false arguments, as a reaction to the frustration of a group of EU member states over the clear ineffectiveness of their actions to force a change of government by force in Venezuela, is nothing more than another clumsy decision, whose only intention is to negatively affect the political dialogue taking place in the country," he said.
Ned Price, the spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said they welcome the EU's punitive move targeting the Maduro regime.
"This is a clear, powerful and concrete message that the world is united in calling for a return to democracy in Venezuela," he tweeted late Monday.