EU foreign ministers have agreed to pursue fresh sanctions against Russian officials following the jailing of dissident Alexei Navalny, diplomatic sources say.
Work can now begin on choosing targets and setting out the legal framework.
Asset freezes or travel bans could target those involved in the imprisonment of the prominent Kremlin critic.
The European Union is expected to use its new global human rights violations sanctions tool for the first time since it was set up.
The bloc already resorted to punitive measures over Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict and after Navalny’s poisoning in August.
Russia has threatened to retaliate if fresh EU sanctions are applied.
After surviving a nerve agent poison attack and receiving treatment in Germany, Navalny returned to Russia in mid-January and was immediately arrested.
He has since been sentenced to a prison term on charges of violating parole for a fraud conviction.
EU countries have been calling for his release to no avail amid a wave of pro-Navalny protests in Russia was met with thousands of arrests.