Emonth can be a long time, even on big-line foreign policy. When the EU foreign ministers met in Brussels at the end of January, the political heavyweights from Berlin, Paris and Rome blocked new punitive measures for the Navalnyj case. You are not under time pressure at all, said ministers and diplomats. The Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, also on this line, wanted to talk about cooperation with Moscow alone.
Political correspondent for the European Union, NATO and the Benelux countries based in Brussels.
But when the ministers met again personally in Brussels on Monday, he summed up the new situation: “Sergei Lavrov said, at least indirectly, that Russia is thinking of breaking off relations with the European Union.” One must impose sanctions in order to defend at least the most elementary human rights in Russia.
Oligarchs not in their sights
So it happened: the ministers agreed on further sanctions. The external representative Josep Borrell will make concrete proposals, for the first time in the context of a new set of rules, with which human rights violations can be punished all over the world. They will target people responsible for the arrest and conviction of opposition politician Alexei Navalnyj, Borrell said after the meeting. He hoped that this could be decided within a week. Oligarchs will not be among them, even if Navalnyj’s comrades-in-arms stand up for it: “We can’t just sanction someone because we don’t like them,” said Borrell. That is also a question of the rule of law.
How is the new agreement to be explained? Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) referred on Monday to the conviction of Navalnyj in early February; he had to spend his sentence in a penal camp. Admittedly, this condemnation came as no surprise. With the immediate arrest of Navalnyj after his return, the Russian authorities had left little doubt that the crackdown would be tough.
The political momentum for sanctions only got under way with Borrell’s visit to Moscow, albeit against his will. The external representative set off with the best of intentions earlier this month. He wanted to find out how and where cooperation with Russia could be expanded. Instead he was harshly rejected by Foreign Minister Lavrov. He had three diplomats thrown out of the country during the visit because they had allegedly taken part in a demonstration for Navalnyj’s release.
Borrell then faced harsh criticism from several member states and members of the European Parliament. There was talk of a “fiasco” because he did not oppose Lavrov’s public attacks and even praised the Russian corona vaccine. Admittedly, in Lavrov’s presence, the Spaniard had spoken of a new “low point” in the relationship. Behind closed doors, there are said to have been violent arguments between Borrell and Lavrov over how to deal with Navalnyj. “It is clear that Russia is on a course of confrontation with the EU,” Borrell summed up on Monday.
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