The European Union’s Foreign Minister spoke, the Russians expelled three diplomats, and now there is a wedge between two neighbours.
Russia and the European Union would not be classed as friends, but they are certainly neighbours, and the relationship between the two is vital to keep a check on. European Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell’s recent trip to Moscow has brought a new body of tension to the relationship. Under the microscope is his press conference ‘where he failed to push back against Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who accused EU leaders of lying about the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and called the bloc an “unreliable partner.”’ The European Union, fronted by Borrell in situations such as these, is – to state the obvious – a staunch believer in pushing for absolute democratic values around the world, and especially with nations it trades with. For the pessimist, the EU is only interested in upholding democracy this forcefully when there are potentially severe implications of EU citizen backlash of the bloc trading with an un-democratic nation. For the optimist and realist, the persecution of Navalny, a true candidate to Putin, is unthinkable and completely unacceptable.
As the Financial Times reported “most observers say the EU-Russia spat will freeze already icy relations even harder and increase the chances that the Europeans will move towards sanctions over Russia’s detention of Alexei Navalny, the opposition activist.” This is not without it’s potential issues for the European Union, especially Germany, as the Nord Stream pipeline could potentially be disrupted by this spat. There is enough information in the public sphere to understand why Borrell did not push back during the press conference; many leaders of States in the EU want a good relationship with Russia, and any public humiliation can be seen to put relations on the back foot. As this last week has shown however, potentially the correct act of diplomacy for the Foreign Minister is to always talk boldly during Press conferences, if the reaction from MEPs is anything to go by.
But the understanding why Borrell did not push hard is super ceded by the fact this is the third occasion in the past year Borrell’s competency and credibility has come into question. As Politico has laid out:
- In April 2020, Borrell was called before the European Parliament to answer allegations that his office had watered down a report on disinformation to appease China.
- In January, standing with the Turkish foreign minister in Brussels, Borrell failed to read out prepared remarks expressing concern about “rule of law and human rights.” Instead, he voiced concern “about the situation in Turkey from any point of view.”
It is not a great resume for the EU’s acting Chief of Foreign Policy. If there is to be a return to a normal relationship between Russia and the EU, there will have to be a clear acknowledgment from Russia democracy is the most important issue from the EU’s stance, and from the EU, they will surely group together quickly to ensure all MEPs feel their views are represented on the global stage. If the EU wants to have a clear mandate to strike a democracy first foreign policy, questions remain whether they will put their own economic deals on the line to achieve this aim.
The Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/4147c7e3-2342-4a4e-b6fe-f669a5fd8b2a