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24th Jul 2021

How 'firm' and 'strong' was EU rebuke to Russian envoy?

  • Russia's EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU and Russia gave two differing accounts of what happened on Monday (3 May), when Russia's ambassador was ordered in for a reprimand over anti-EU sanctions.

Two senior EU officials, Ilze Juhansone and Stefano Sannino, gave the Russian envoy, Vladimir Chizhov, quite a tongue-lashing over the affair, according to the EU side.

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Chizhov "was informed of the strong rejection and firm condemnation" of Russia's recent decision to blacklist the EU Parliament president and an EU commissioner, the EU foreign service's readout said.

Russia's blacklist was "purely politically motivated" and "lacked any legal justification", they added.

Juhansone and Sannino also voiced "grave concern" over Russia's recent expulsions of Czech diplomats from Moscow and warned Chizhov that EU foreign ministers or leaders meeting later this month might take "appropriate measures".

It was the first time in his 15-year career in Brussels that Chizhov had been summoned for a formal rebuke.

But according to his office, Monday's meeting sounded more like a two-way chat on how to make nice.

"Both sides expressed regret in connection with the recently intensified trend towards their [EU-Russia relations] deterioration," the Russian readout said.

"The importance of diplomatic efforts to rectify the current unhealthy situation in the dialogue between Moscow and Brussels was stressed. The Russian side reaffirmed its readiness for this endeavour," it added.

The "situation" arose because Russia tried to murder its top opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, then jailed him, while, at the same time, seeing a lethal purge against LGBTI people in its Chechnya province.

It also arose because Russian spies killed two Czech citizens in a bomb blast in 2014, it recently emerged.

These triggered EU human-rights sanctions and Czech expulsions of Russian diplomats, while Russia denied everything and responded in kind.

But the "trend", which Chizhov so "regretted", began years ago, when Russia invaded first Georgia and then Ukraine to try to rebuild its Soviet-era power.

And Chizhov himself, who has been in his post in Brussels since 2005, was likely instrumental in targeting the Italian EU Parliament chief, David Sassoli, and the Czech EU commissioner, Věra Jourová, in Russia's recent blacklist, in order to cause offence.

For her part, Jourová told the Politico website, last weekend, that she was sick of EU officials and diplomats from western countries thinking they knew better how to handle Russia than those from the former Iron Curtain states, whom they labelled "Russophobes".

Meanwhile, Juhansone, who spoke to Chizhov, is a former EU ambassador from Latvia, whose foreign ministry has a clear-eyed view of Moscow's malign policies toward Europe.

But Sannino is a former diplomat from Italy, which tends to be more Russia-friendly.

He has told press he highly valued input on Russia from Baltic states' diplomats.

But he is also known as being part of a circle of Mediterranean officials around Spanish EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who think it is the EU's job to mend ties with Russia, instead of Russia's job to end hostilities, an EU source said.

"It's quite likely Sannino did say [to Chizhov] how sorry he felt about deteriorating ties - it sounds like him [Sannino]," the source told EUobserver.

"People like Sannino, Serrano, and Mora are for-ever worried about what the EU should be doing to improve relations [with Russia]," the source added, referring to Pedro Serrano, Borrell's Spanish chief-of-staff, and Enrique Mora, Borrell's Spanish deputy secretary general.

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Four explosions and an assassination attempt in Bulgaria were likely perpetrated by Russia, Bulgaria has said, after the Czech Republic, a fellow Nato ally, said Russia killed two people there in 2014.

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The Czech government has downplayed the significance of Russia's lethal attack on a weapons depot in 2014, but further retaliatory measures, including at EU or Nato level, could follow.

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