The European Union will impose economic sanctions on at least four as yet unidentified Russian leaders for their roles in the arrest and imprisonment of critic Alexei Navalny.

The EU agreed to sanction Russian officials responsible for the jailing of Navalny, as well as the suppression of pro-Navalny demonstrators. Individuals in Russia's judiciary might also face EU sanctions in the coming days.

"The EU will not be silent" about the persecution of Navalny, German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas said.

"Relations are certainly at a low - there is no other word for it," he said. "Therefore, we decided to impose further sanctions and list specific persons," he said.

The new EU sanctions are in addition to travel bans and asset freezes imposed by the EU on half a dozen senior Russian officials in 2020 under the bloc's chemical weapons countermeasures regime.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the EU decision. He held a separate meeting by teleconference with the European officials.

"I am in favor of ordering the preparation of additional sanctions, of listings of specific persons," said Maas. "At the same time, we need to talk about how to keep up a constructive dialogue with Russia, even as relations certainly have reached a low."

In October 2020, the EU imposed sanctions on a number of Russians, including close allies of President Vladimir Putin after the poisoning of Navalny in August by the Federal Security Service.

Russia responded with its own individual sanctions and the expulsion of three EU diplomats last month.