EU, UK and US to speak with Navalny after expulsion of diplomats in Russia

WION Web Team
Moscow, Russia Published: Feb 08, 2021, 04:53 PM(IST)

File photo Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

The meeting at 1200 GMT is likely to be the first forum for the West to consider any possible joint response to Navalny's jailing last week and Friday's expulsions, which took place while the EU's top diplomat was visiting Moscow.

The European Union is planning to hold a video call with allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Monday. The interaction comes close on the heels of Russia expelling diplomats from EU states last week. 

The EU and Navalny's allies will be joined by envoys from Britain, the United States, Canada and Ukraine. 

The meeting at 1200 GMT is likely to be the first forum for the West to consider any possible joint response to Navalny's jailing last week and Friday's expulsions, which took place while the EU's top diplomat was visiting Moscow.

Russia on Friday announced the expulsion of diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden during the rare meeting in Moscow between EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a blog late on Sunday that he had learned of the expulsion of the diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden via social media during his talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Friday. He added the expulsions by Moscow, his fruitless appeals to halt them, and a denial of his request to visit Navalny had cemented his view that "Europe and Russia are drifting apart".

"Russia is progressively disconnecting itself from Europe and looking at democratic values as an existential threat," he wrote, adding, "It will be for member states to decide the next steps, and yes, these could include sanctions."

Last week, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Romania and the Czech Republic pushed for fresh sanctions on Russia, with Germany, Italy and France arguing to give Moscow more time to reconsider its jailing of Navalny, President Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic.

On February 2, Navalny was sentenced for almost three years by a court which ruled he had broken the terms of a suspended 3-1/2 year prison sentence in an embezzlement case he says was trumped up. Navalny's allies have published a list of Russian business and political figures whom they want the West to sanction. EU leaders, who have condemned Navalny's jailing, are due to discuss their response at a summit in March.

Since the Kremlin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in March 2014, Russia is under Western economic sanctions, with NATO accusing Moscow of seeking to undermine the West through disinformation and covert operations.

However, the West still needs Russia as an energy supplier and as a regional power in diplomacy, such as upholding the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, and tackling climate change.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has defended Russia's shock expulsion of EU diplomats during the high-profile visit of the European Union's top diplomat but insisted it remained interested in reviving relations with Brussels.

The declaration of the three foreign diplomats as personae non gratae was a "consequence of the actions of some diplomatic missions in Moscow against the backdrop of illegal riots," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Monday. 

He added that Russia "has clearly demonstrated it does not intend to tolerate this". 

In January, tens of thousands of Russians rallied for two consecutive weekends against President Vladimir Putin's 20-year rule and demanded the release of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, his most prominent critic who was sentenced to nearly three years in prison last week. 

Western leaders have slammed the expulsions, further straining ties that have worsened after Navalny was sentenced to two years and eight months in a penal colony for violating parole conditions while recovering from a poisoning attack in Germany. 

Borrell is expected to meet with foreign ministers from the 27 EU states on February 22 to discuss fresh sanctions against Moscow that would require an unanimous vote among the EU members.

 

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