The European Union has summoned Russia's ambassador after Moscow blacklisted eight EU officials in retaliation for the bloc's decision to impose sanctions over the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin critic and opposition leader currently languishing in a Russian prison
Along with European Parliament President David Sassoli, Moscow has sanctioned Vera Jourova, a Czech politician who serves as vice president for values and transparency at the European Commission, Jorg Raupach, the head of the Berlin prosecutor's office, and Jacques Maire, a French politician.
European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said that Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov would meet in Brussels later Monday with senior EU officials who "will convey to him our strong condemnation and rejection of this decision.''
Stano said the Russian-imposed travel bans are "obviously very politically motivated and lack any legal justification. They are groundless.'' He said that "this all shows that Russia is determined to continue the hostile track of confrontation.''
EU leaders condemned "in the strongest possible terms" a Russian decision to ban eight European leaders from entering Russian territory.
"This action is unacceptable, lacks any legal justification and is entirely groundless," European Council President Charles Michel, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Parliament President David Sassoli said in a joint statement.
"It targets the European Union directly, not only the individuals concerned," they added.
In a press release on Friday, Russia's government announced that the president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, was among the eight European officials sanctioned.
"The European Union is continuing its policy of unilateral, illegitimate restrictive measures targeting Russian citizens and organisations," the statement said.
Relations between Moscow and the EU have been strained since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and backed pro-Russia separatists during the war in eastern Ukraine.
Most recently, Russia has been involved in a public spat with the Czech Republic over a 2014 fire that has been blamed on Russia's security services. The row has seen both countries expel diplomats and led to massive street protests in Prague.
The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell said that Russia was "drifting towards an authoritarian state and driving away from Europe" after a visit to Moscow to raise Navalny's case.
"The ministers unanimously interpreted Russia's recent actions and responses as a clear signal of not being interested in cooperation with the European Union, but the country looks interested in confrontation and disengagement," he said.