The EU foreign policy chief said Sunday that Russia does not want to “seize the opportunity” to have a constructive dialogue with the bloc, from which they “have to draw the consequences.”
Josep Borell made his comments after he visited Moscow from Feb. 4-6, a trip he termed complicated and said he discussed “the fraught state of EU-Russia relations,” and that ties further deteriorated with the arrest and sentencing of Alexey Navalny, as well as the arrests of the thousands of demonstrators supporting him.
“The purpose of this mission was to express directly the EU’s strong condemnation of these events and to address, through principled diplomacy, the process of a rapid worsening of our relationship with Russia, and to help prepare the forthcoming European Council discussions on EU-Russia relations,” he said referring to the EU summit slated for March.
Noting that an aggressively-staged news conference and the expulsion of three EU diplomats during his Russia visit were indicators of Russia not wanting to engage in more constructive dialogue with the bloc.
Borell said the situation was not unexpected, however, it is regrettable even “from a Russian strategic perspective.”
“As the EU, we will have to draw the consequences, reflect carefully on the direction we want to give to our relations with Russia and proceed in a united manner with determination,” he noted.
Tension rose at times in Lavrov meeting
Stating the core topics of his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were human rights, fundamental freedoms and especially the Navalny case, Borell said:
“At times the discussion with my Russian counterpart reached high levels of tension, as I called for Mr. Navalny’s immediate and unconditional release, as well as for a full and impartial investigation into his assassination attempt.”
Stating that he learned about the expulsion of EU diplomats through social media at the end of his meeting with Lavrov, Borell said he reminded his Russian counterpart of his country’s obligations in the field of human rights under international commitments.
Russia, EU drifting apart
Borell said the bloc and Russia have disagreements on many subjects, including Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Syria and Libya.
He said the development of Russian society and the country’s geostrategic choices were concerning. “My meeting with Minister Lavrov and the messages sent by Russian authorities during this visit confirmed that Europe and Russia are drifting apart. It seems that Russia is progressively disconnecting itself from Europe and looking at democratic values as an existential threat.
“We are at a crossroads. The strategic choices we make now will determine international power dynamics in the 21st century, and notably, whether we will advance towards more cooperative or more polarised models, based on closed or on freer societies,” he said.
Borell stressed that EU-Russia relations are going to be discussed in a EU foreign ministers meeting Feb. 22, and said member states will decide next steps, which could include sanctions.
“If we want a safer world for tomorrow, we have to act decidedly today and be ready to take some risks,” he said.
In October 2020, the EU decided to impose sanctions on six individuals and the State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology in Russia for their alleged involvement in the poisoning of opposition leader Alexey Navalny.
The adopted restrictive measures consist of a travel ban to the EU and an asset freeze for individuals, and an asset freeze for the entity.
Navalny, 44, a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, felt sick Aug. 20 on a flight to Moscow. After an emergency landing in the Siberian city of Omsk, he spent two days in a hospital before being sent to Berlin for treatment.
After running tests in several labs, German officials announced Navalny was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, which was also used, according to the UK government, in a 2018 attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury.
Russian authorities deny any involvement, saying chemical weapons are neither developed nor produced in the country since the last chemical round was destroyed in 2017, as verified and certified by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
*Contributions and writing by Sena Guler
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