EU sends top envoy to Russia amid Alexei Navalny controversy

WION Web Team
New DelhiUpdated: Feb 04, 2021, 08:02 AM IST


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European Union foreign policy chief insists that he will deliver "clear messages" to the Kremlin

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is set to fly to Moscow amid jailing of Alexei Navalny and crackdown against protests. This is the first visit of a top EU envoy to Russia. Although the likely aim of the visit is to put pressure on Moscow over Alexei Navalny, some European capitals worried that Borrell's visit may signal business as usual with Moscow.

But Borrell insists he will deliver "clear messages" to the Kremlin despite it blanking Western calls to release President Vladimir Putin's most prominent domestic opponent Navalny, who was on Tuesday given a jail term of almost three years.

"It is when things are not going well that you must engage," the former Spanish foreign minister said on Monday.


Russia and EU have had strained relations ever since Russia captured Crimea and fuelled was in Ukraine in 2014. 

Borrell is eager to sound out his veteran counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the chances of cooperation on issues including enlisting Russia's help in reviving the Iran nuclear deal and tackling climate change. 

However, the issue of Navalny and subsequent protests looms large on the visit.

Moscow has already dismissed linking the meet with Navalny as 'nonsense'

"We hope that such nonsense as linking the prospects of Russia-EU relations with the resident of a detention centre will not happen," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Moscow stands "ready to do everything" to develop ties with Brussels, but the Kremlin is "not ready to listen to advice" on the issue of Navalny, he said. 

The authorities have poured cold water on attempts to set up a meeting with Putin's nemesis and Borrell will settle for talks with civil society representatives.  

Back in Europe calls are growing from some nations for the EU to bulk up on sanctions it slapped on six Russian officials in October over the nerve agent poisoning that left Navalny fighting for his life in Germany.

EU foreign ministers last week agreed they would revisit the issue if he was not released. 

"After this ruling, there will now also be talks among EU partners. Further sanctions cannot be ruled out," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert.

An EU statement said foreign ministers would discuss "possible further action" at a meeting on February 22.

(With AFP inputs)