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10 Feb, 2021 10:59

Back in Brussels after disastrous visit to Moscow, Borrell performs about turn, lobbying EU members for more anti-Russia sanctions

Back in Brussels after disastrous visit to Moscow, Borrell performs about turn, lobbying EU members for more anti-Russia sanctions

Facing harsh criticism back home from Western politicians for his friendly tone at meetings in Moscow last week, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has now struck a harder line, calling for new sanctions against Russia.

Under questioning in the European Parliament on Tuesday, the high representative for foreign affairs told lawmakers that, despite warm words with his counterparts, he had been under “no illusion” about the approach the bloc should take to the country.

“I wanted to test whether the Russian authorities are interested in a serious attempt to reverse the deterioration of our relations and seize the opportunity to have a more constructive dialogue. The answer has been clear: No, they are not,” Borrell said.

The former Spanish foreign minister raised eyebrows by suggesting new, tough EU sanctions against Moscow. “I will put forward concrete proposals,” he announced, adding that ministers will have the opportunity to debate these measures at a meeting on February 22.

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The move marks a significant departure from his bid to downplay the prospect of new economic restrictions in discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week. “As for sanctions,” Borrell said, “at the moment, not a single EU member state has submitted a proposal.” He noted at the time that discussions would continue and could be addressed at a meeting in March.

However, the newfound hawkishness of Brussels’ top diplomat did not reassure all European parliamentarians present that he had been playing out a complex geopolitical strategy with Moscow. The leader of the Renew Europe bloc, Dacian Ciolos, blasted Borrell, saying that “it didn’t make sense to carry out a visit given the circumstances,” and adding that the “fallout from it sadly had a negative impact on the credibility of the EU in the diplomatic sector.”

However, the veteran statesman hit back at suggestions he should never have got on the plane, arguing that EU countries had sent 19 delegations to Russia in the past two years for constructive talks. “So can everyone [in the EU] go apart from the high representative?” he asked.

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The threat of sanctions has also not been universally well received across Europe. In an interview with the Düsseldorf-based Handelsblatt newspaper, former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who ran Germany from 1998 to 2005, said he was pessimistic about the approach. According to him, restrictive measures “have never worked before.” Instead, he added, “we know from our own history that whenever we had good relations with Russia, there was peace on this continent. When it was different, there was no peace.”

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