The EU should prepare for “a new recession” in its relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the bloc’s top diplomat warned.
As Joe Biden and Putin spoke at a lakeside mansion in Geneva, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell unveiled a strategy aimed at charting the course of EU-Russia relations. Ties between the two sides have reached a post-cold war low following Kremlin-orchestrated cyberattacks and election interference, the frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine, and the poisoning and imprisonment of opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
“We believe that a renewed partnership that allows us to realize the full potential of close cooperation with Russia is a distant prospect,” Borrell told reporters. “Therefore, the EU must be realistic and prepare for a further recession in our relations with Russia, which are currently at the lowest level. And this new recession is the most likely prospect for now. “
While Brussels has faced calls to toughen sanctions on Putin’s inner circle, Borrell said he hoped to avoid further restrictive measures, because it would signal a continued deterioration in relations. “I would try to do everything I can to avoid it, while showing the strength to push back and restrict and the willingness to participate when necessary.”
In general, he added, the EU was “quite reluctant” to use economic sanctions because they “affect ordinary people who are not responsible” for the actions of their governments.
Navalny advisers have urged Western countries to extend sanctions to more companies and officials linked to the Kremlin, after the EU and the US this year targeted a smaller group of people with travel bans and freezes of money. assets in response to the poisoning and imprisonment of the opposition leader.
Some EU leaders are skeptical about new measures, notably Frenchman Emmanuel Macron. who said the policy of “progressive sanctions” against Russia is not effective.
The document attempts to chart a course between calling out the Russian government for human rights violations and breaches of international law, while seeking to work with Moscow on issues including global warming and environmental issues along a 2,000 km shared border. .
The EU hopes to step up outreach to Russian citizens, waiving visa fees for students, youth and scientific researchers, as well as increasing support for independent Russian-language media, a sector under intense pressure from the Kremlin’s crackdown.
EU officials have also pledged to limit the resources available to the Russian government to “carry out its disruptive foreign policy,” as well as to take further action against money laundering and corruption, but details remain scant. .
Borrell was criticized earlier this year, after he was seen to have been humiliated at a Moscow press conference with veteran Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The EU diplomat said he knew Russia preferred to deal with “some member states” rather than the EU institutions in Brussels. “I know this because they have told me directly that Russia is not interested in engaging with the EU and they prefer to go to the member states, some member states.”
EU leaders will debate the union’s stance towards its eastern neighbor at a Brussels summit next week, where the document could expose traditional divisions. While the 27 countries have consistently agreed to extend the sanctions, imposed after the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, to the Russian government, Poland and the Baltic countries tend to strike a more aggressive tone, while France and Italy have often sounded more conciliatory. .
The US president heard EU concerns at a summit in Brussels on Tuesday, before his meeting with Putin. “The EU-Russia relationship is in a negative spiral and this is also what we very clearly convey to President Biden,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism