Russia Monitor is a review of the most important events related to Russian internal and external security, as well as its foreign policies.
Date: 8 February 2021
“Operation Borrell”: Russian Triumph, European Humiliation
Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, made a horrible mistake, viewed as absolutely unacceptable in diplomacy. His decision to go ahead with the trip to Russia as planned outraged many while what he said and what he did not in Moscow was an even bigger disgrace for the bloc’s top diplomat. Also, the EU press service played its part in the failed visit. It seems that Sergey Lavrov and the Russian foreign ministry were perfectly prepared for the diplomatic clash. Was that just Borrell’s naivety? Rather doubtful.
Borrell flew to Moscow shortly after a Russian court sentenced the opposition figure Alexey Navalny to more than two years in prison. While in Moscow for the first time since 2017, the EU foreign affairs chief did not defend the repressed opposition but focused on cooperation with Russia. Although the controversial visit raised eyebrows among many, Borrell seems not to care about the whole fuss. In a statement, he urged to hold the dialogue with Russia. Although he did not secure a meeting with Alexey Navalny, Borrell said that EU diplomats were in touch with his lawyers. This comes as somewhat an odd explanation as Borrell need not have traveled to Moscow to do so. The EU Commission press service made a shameful mistake by explaining that with the meeting, the EU would legitimize the arrest of the Kremlin critic. Upon his return from Moscow, Borrell said he had conveyed the issue of both Navalny and Ukraine. The problem is that he was remembered more for praising the Russian vaccine and saying the bloc might buy some doses. Another striking thing was that Borrell did not immediately condemn Russia’s decision to expel three diplomats from Poland, Sweden, and Germany, as well as he did not react to Lavrov’s lambasting the European Union, saying at the joint press conference that the European Union was not a reliable partner for Russia. The European Union showed bleak while condemning these steps upon Borrell’s visit.
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It is no wonder that the EU diplomat came under scathing criticism for his visit from both journalists and EU lawmakers. It is worth adding that some EU nations, including Poland, opposed Borrell’s trip to Moscow from the very outset. It was clear that he could not gain any advantage, becoming an easy target for the Kremlin instead. While manipulating the trip to its advantage and smashing the EU foreign affairs chief, Putin’s regime sent a strong signal to the West to forget any concession on the Navalny case. Worse enough, Borrell’s visit was actually harmful to Navalny while increasing the risk. The European Commission offered a disastrous reaction as its spokespeople did not comment on Lavrov’s naming the EU as an “unreliable” partner. Nor did they answer the question of whether it was proper for Borrell to visit Moscow in the light of Lavrov’s sour words on the European Union. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the expulsion of three EU diplomats by Moscow yet the latter politician said talks should continue with Russia on Syria, Libya, and disarmament despite the Kremlin’s actions. The thing is that the EU has not developed its stance on any of these three issues. However, this is probably about Merkel’s determination to complete the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Borrell’s horrible visit to Moscow confirms that Russia does not see the European Union as a serious partner whose opinion matters. Russia is in serious talks in Berlin and Paris, but not with eurocrats. Lavrov was perfectly prepared for the meeting while the timing to announce Russia’s decision to expel three diplomats was chosen carefully. Russia’s top diplomat knew how Brussels would react or rather – how it would not react. What could be expected next are further aggressive steps Russia might take against the European Union and the West on the whole.
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