Thursday

4th Mar 2021

Borrell to propose sanctions after Russia 'fiasco'

  • EU top diplomat Josep Borrell at memorial to murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow last weekend (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has promised new sanctions on Russia and sharpened criticism of Moscow in ongoing fallout from his "humiliating" trip.

"I will put forward concrete proposals using the right of initiative that the [EU] high representative [for foreign affairs] has," Borrell told MEPs in the European Parliament (EP) on Tuesday (9 February).

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  • "The main blame for the fiasco is on Russia," Polish MEP Radek Sikorski said in Brussels on Tuesday (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Foreign ministers would discuss his draft blacklist when they next met, on 22 February, he noted.

"It will be for the member states to decide the [EU's] next steps. But yes, this could include sanctions," he said.

Russia had gone "full circle" since the fall of the Soviet Union in its return to "merciless" authoritarianism, Borrell also told MEPs.

He spoke of "deep disappointment and growing mistrust" with Moscow, which was "disconnected" from Europe "because they [the Russian elite] consider our liberal democratic system a threat".

"I wanted to test if the Russian authorities were interested in revising the differences in our relations ... the answer was clear: They aren't," Borrell added.

Borrell is expected to propose asset-freezes and visa-bans on Russian individuals involved in jailing opposition figure Alexei Navalny, under Europe's new 'Magnitsky Act'.

The act, named informally after a late Russian dissident, does not include "corruption" as a criterion, however.

And EU sanctions on minor Russian officials would fall far short of what Navalny's associates are calling for - EU and US blacklisting of pro-Kremlin oligarchs.

Some MEPs are collecting signatures for an open letter to Borrell to retrofit corruption into the EU 'Magnitsky' measures and to implement Navalny's ideas.

But leading EU states France and Germany want to dial down tensions with Russia instead of taking a hawkish approach.

Borrell spoke in the EP after being roundly criticised over his visit to Moscow last Friday.

More than 80 EU deputies have signed a letter saying he should resign after what they called his "humiliating" trip.

And several of them, such as Dutch liberal Sophie in 't Veld, attacked him on Tuesday.

"It is difficult to see how ... [Borrell] can continue to represent the EU abroad, with his authority and credibility severely damaged", she said, describing his visit as "disastrous and ill-judged".

"The infamous press conference sparked outrage in my group," German centre-right MEP Michael Gahler also said.

Borrell, last Friday, smiled meekly while Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov lambasted the EU as an "unreliable partner" in a press briefing.

The EU top diplomat walked into propaganda traps of criticising the US and promoting Russia's coronavirus vaccine.

And Lavrov expelled three European diplomats while Borrell was there to belittle him.

"It could've been better," Borrell admitted at one point in Tuesday's EP debriefing.

But for the most part he defended himself, saying he had had "heated ... eye-to-eye" talks with Lavrov about Navalny behind closed doors and that he had been courageous in taking on the risks the trip entailed.

"Foreign policy cannot be reduced to issuing a written statement from a safe distance [in Brussels]," Borrell said.

Russia's behaviour was designed to divide Europe and "we should not fall into these traps", he added.

Some MEPs spoke up for him.

It would have been wiser to have met Lavrov in the margins of an international event, former Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski said, but added: "Let's remember the main blame for the fiasco is on Russia. It's Russia that was rude and perfidious to our high representative".

France and Germany

Other deputies also said it was pro-Russian EU capitals who were doing the real damage to Europe's foreign policy.

Germany is ploughing ahead with a new Russia gas pipeline and France is still conducting its high-level "dialogue" with Moscow despite everything, they noted.

"I'm saying this not to you [Borrell] but to Berlin and Paris because that's where the people responsible for this [fiasco] are," German Green Sergey Lagodinsky said.

Borrell also said "the majority" of EU foreign ministers had backed his Moscow visit when they met before he went.

"Do you know how many times official delegations [from EU states] at ministerial level or above have been to Russia in the past two years? Nineteen. Nineteen times ... it's not so strange to go, it seems to be fairly normal," he said.

Meanwhile, Borrell's sanctions pledge and harsh words on Tuesday led some diplomats from Russia-wary EU states to hope his "humiliation" would make him an ally going forward.

But there was also a risk the opposite might happen, an EU source said.

"There's a risk that Borrell becomes so discouraged on Russia that he delegates it to his officials in future, while he concentrates on areas where he has more experience, such as Latin America and the Middle East," the source said.

Knives out for Borrell, as Russia divides EU

Some MEPs have called for the top diplomat's resignation over his trip to Moscow, while Germany's stubborn backing for a Russia pipeline risks aggravating EU division.

Russia humiliates Borrell in Moscow

Russia expelled European diplomats and harangued the EU on human rights, while Borrell went off-script on Cuba in Moscow on Friday.

US deaf to Germany on Russia pipeline

Any firm issuing safety certificates for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will find itself in US sanctions crosshairs, the state department has warned.

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