EU Gives Alexei Navalny Human Rights Prize, Likely Creating Further Tension With Russia

The European Union awarded its top human rights prize Wednesday to jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a move seen as a rebuke of the Kremlin.

The announcement that the European Parliament picked the Russian politician for the Sakharov Prize was made on Twitter by the EPP group. The largest and oldest group in the European Parliament, EPP represents Christian Democrats, the Associated Press reported.

"Mr. Putin, free Alexei Navalny. Europe calls for his—and all other political prisoners'—freedom," the group said in a tweet.

Navalny was arrested earlier this year after returning to Russia following a stay in Germany. He had been in Germany for treatment and recovery after he had been poisoning by a Soviet-era nerve agent while on a domestic flight in Russia.

By awarding Navalny the human rights prize, the EU has likely exacerbated an already fraught relationship with Russia, according to the AP. Matters between Russia and the 27-nation bloc have been strained for years, especially since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and threw its support behind a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

The situation only worsened following Russia's treatment of Navalny. The EU has been calling for his immediate and unconditional release in what it sees as politically -motivated imprisonment.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded a top human rights prize by the EU. In this photo, Navalny addresses demonstrators during a rally on July 20, 2019 in Moscow, Russia. MAXIM ZMEYEV/Getty

The EU imposed sanctions last year on six senior Russian officials for their alleged involvement in the poison attack on Navalny. Russia has denied any involvement in the poisoning.

The 50,000-euro ($582,000) Sakharov Prize itself will be awarded during the December 15 session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

Another candidate for the Sakharov Prize had been a group of Afghan women, including human rights activists, a journalist and cultural figures. The group was considered a strong contender for the prize as the fate of Afghan women has taken center stage again since the Taliban took power in the wake of the U.S. military departure from the country at the end of August.

Despite initial promises to protect the rights of women, especially in education, the Taliban have come under criticism, including from the United Nations, for not sticking to those commitments.

Imprisoned Bolivian politician and former interim President Jeanine Anez was also considered for the prize. Anez served as the conservative interim president of Bolivia for a year before her arrest in March, when she was detained as the restored leftist government pursued individuals involved in the 2019 ouster of Anez's predecessor, socialist leader Evo Morales.