The High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in the European Union, Josep Borrell (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right) hold a joint press conference following their meeting in Moscow, Russia on February 5, 2021 (Photo by the Russian Foreign Ministry / Statement) / Anadolu Agency Via Getty Images)
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs | Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
LONDON – A recent press conference between the European Union’s chief diplomat and the veteran Russian foreign minister showed that diplomatic relations had fallen to a new low, leading some analysts to question whether the “humiliating” trip could lead to more political consequences.
European Union foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell visited Moscow on Friday to voice the European Union’s opposition to the arrest of Alexei Navalny, a staunch critic of the Russian president. Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, Borrell failed to reject his Russian counterpart’s comments when standing by his side at the press conference. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has claimed that the European Union is “an unreliable partner.”
In addition, Borrell learned on Twitter during his visit that Russia had expelled three diplomats from the European Union for attending demonstrations in support of Navalny.
“My meeting with Minister Lavrov highlighted that Europe and Russia are separating from each other. It seems that Russia is gradually breaking away from Europe,” Borrell said in a blog post two days after the press conference. He described it as “a very complicated visit to Moscow.”
His controversial trip was so poorly received that a group of 73 European lawmakers said that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen “should take action if Borrell does not resign with his consent.” In a joint letter, they said that Borrell had failed “to defend the interests and values of the European Union during his visit”, causing “severe damage to the reputation of the European Union.”
Ties between the European Union and Russia have been sporadic for some time, but their relationship is important given their common economic, energy and strategic interests.
Jade McGlane, Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Research Center, described the relationship between the European Union and Russia as “coldly flammable” after Borrell’s trip to Moscow. “The European Union does not have an appropriate Russian strategy. There is no point in resetting the situation with Russia when Russia does not want it,” she said.
Both sides tried to improve their ties in the areas of trade, energy and counter-terrorism, among other things, before 2014. In this context, the European Union supported Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, which concluded its work in 2012.
However, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 was a turning point in their relationship. The European Union opposed the move and imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and companies as a result.
Relations between them deteriorated due to Russian interference in the long-running Syrian war and in other Middle Eastern conflicts. In addition, several constitutional reforms in Russia have raised concerns among European officials, including one that would allow Putin to remain in power after his current term.
“Their relationship has always been difficult,” Ian Lesser, vice president of the German Marshall Fund for the United States, told CNBC, noting that relations are now “deteriorating on multiple fronts.”
As a result, Lesser expects “more pressure on Nord Stream (the project), including from Washington, DC.”
Nord Stream 2 is a natural gas pipeline that will travel from Russia to Germany and, once completed, will double the flow of energy resources between the two, according to Deutsche Welle.
The project has come under heavy criticism, including by the United States, which has imposed sanctions on companies operating the pipeline – a position the new U.S. presidency does not intend to change overnight. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said that the Biden administration is against the project.
Some European lawmakers also argue that Nord Stream 2 should pause in response to Navalny’s poisoning Russia. Before returning to Russia last month, Navalny was recovering in Germany after narrowly escaping from what has since been independently confirmed as poisoning from nerve gas in Novichok in August. 20. The Kremlin denies poisoning Navalny.
“I can imagine it’s very disappointing” that the United States will attend Friday’s press conference in Moscow, McGlinn said by phone. She added that the United States was likely asking, “Do we have a reliable partner who can stand up to Russia?”