A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says Russia’s decision to bar opposition politician Aleksei Navalny from the 2018 presidential election "casts serious doubt on political pluralism in Russia" and and on the prospects for democratic elections in the country.
Maja Kocinjancic made the remarks on December 26 -- a day after Russia's Central Election Commission officially barred Navalny from running against President Vladimir Putin in the March 2018 vote.
The commission rejected Navalny's bid to run, saying he was ineligible because of a past criminal conviction on embezzlement charges.
Navalny received a suspended sentence, but he has repeatedly described the charges against him as politically-motivated.
Kocijancic said Navalny "has been judged by the European Court of Human Rights to have been denied the right to a fair trial in his prosecution in 2013."
She added that "politically-motivated charges should not be used against political participation."
"We expect the Russian authorities to ensure that there is a level playing field, including in the presidential elections," she said.
Kocijancic also said that the EU expects Russia to invite election monitors from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which is part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
"The European Union will base its assessment of the electoral process on their findings, as we have done in the past," Kocijancic said.
A Vote For 'Lies And Corruption'
In a pre-recorded video message released minutes after the commission announced its decision on December 25, Navalny called on his supporters to boycott the vote.
"The procedure that we're invited to participate in is not an election," he said. "Only Putin and his hand-picked candidates are taking part in it."
"Going to the polls right now is to vote for lies and corruption."
"We are declaring a strike by voters. We will ask everyone to boycott these elections. We will not recognize the result," Navalny said.
Navalny told journalists after the ruling that he would appeal the decision at Russia's Constitutional Court, but that he realized his chances of overturning it were slim.
"Of course, we will appeal it everywhere -- at the Constitutional Court. But we are perfectly aware that it is part of one system," he told journalists.
"It appeared to me that the commission and [its President Ella] Pamfilova personally didn't even try to make it look like their decision was not politically motivated."
With reporting by AP, AFP, and BBC