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6th Mar 2021

EU relations are a 'carcass', Russia says

  • Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto (l) with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in St. Petersburg on Monday (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Russia has said it wants closer ties with friendly EU states, but that relations with EU institutions were a dead "carcass".

"The European Union is not the same as Europe. We are not going away from Europe. We have a lot of friends, a lot of like-minded people in Europe. We will continue to develop mutually beneficial relations with them," Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told press in St. Petersburg on Monday (15 February) after meeting Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto.

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But "relations have been consistently torn apart by the European Union", Lavrov added.

"The carcass of these relations was deliberately destroyed at the initiative of Brussels," he said.

The EU and Russia used to hold two summits and some 20 lower-level dialogues each year.

But in the past six years these contacts were reduced to "situational talks about Syria, the Iranian nuclear programme, or some other international situation rather than reviews of the relations with the EU, because there are almost no relations to speak of", Lavrov said.

For his part, Haavisto said it was Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2014 which prompted economic and diplomatic EU sanctions on Russia.

The Finnish minister held Lavrov to account on non-compliance with Ukraine ceasefire accords, after Russian forces killed three Ukrainian soldiers this weekend.

He shamed Russia for recently using a UN-banned "chemical weapon" to try to murder opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

He also accused Russia of persecuting LGBTI people in Chechnya and spoke out in support of pro-democracy protesters in Belarus, which helped to inspire rallies in Russia.

"The occupation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine led to [EU] sanctions, as did the poisoning of ... Navalny with a neurotoxin," Haavisto said.

He reminded Lavrov that Finland, as an EU member, was fully aligned with its foreign policy, in reaction to the Russian's comments on doing business with "like-minded" capitals, instead of talking to the EU as a bloc.

The St. Petersburg meeting came amid EU preparations to blacklist more Russians over Navalny's jailing.

It also came after Russia expelled three European diplomats some 10 days ago, humiliating EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell while he was on a rare visit to Moscow.

But Haavisto did not hold back, in contrast to Borrell, who smiled meekly when Lavrov harangued the EU in their press briefing.

"While Lavrov was calmer than before, Haavisto brought up everything essential - a good performance!", Finnish president Sauli Niinistö tweeted after the St. Petersburg event.

The EU foreign service declined to comment on Lavrov's "carcass" remarks.

But EU foreign ministers will take into account "the way Mr Lavrov conveyed his messages to Mr Borrell and the way he's conveying them to his European counterparts", when they discuss new Russia sanctions on 22 February, Borrell's spokesman said in Brussels on Monday.

Mixed signals

Lavrov, last Thursday, also said Russia was ready to break off EU relations if the sanctions were too harsh.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov took a different line on Friday, saying Moscow wanted to mend ties with Brussels.

But whatever Russia is saying, it has, in practice, ignored EU institutions for years while cultivating closer ties with Russia-friendly states, such as Austria, France, Hungary, and Germany, an EU source noted.

Meanwhile, Haavisto claimed the right for Finnish diplomats to continue observing Russia protests in future.

Austria, Germany, Poland, and Sweden, as well as Norway, the UK, and the US have said the same in recent comments in EUobserver.

But Lavrov said, on Monday, that they would be "meddling in Russia's internal affairs," if they did so.

Finland has the longest border of any EU country with Russia and issues the most EU visas to Russian visitors.

And Haavisto said Europe ought to maintain "people-to-people" contacts with Russians despite the diplomatic chill.

He visited the Finnish consulate in St. Petersburg and it was a "factory" of EU visas, he said.

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