EU Foreign Policy Chief Says Relations With Moscow at ‘Low Point’

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There is no formal proposal for new European Union sanctions on Russia after the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, but EU foreign ministers and leaders will continue to discuss relations with Russia, the EU’s top diplomat said on Friday.

“A full and transparent investigation would help clarify what happened in the case of poisoning of Navalny,” Josep Borrell told a news conference in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“As for the sanctions, there is no proposal for the time being by any member state. EU leaders will have in March an important discussion about relations between EU and Russia and my visit here is part of the preparations of this debate,” he said.

POLITICO reports that Borrell insisted on making the trip, which he described as accepting a longstanding invitation from Lavrov, days after Russia drew international condemnation for jailing opposition leader Navalny, and said it was important to pursue dialogue. But while Borrell told EU foreign ministers that he did not want to be a “mailman” simply delivering messages, he did not identify any clear objective for his visit, apart from “putting aside negative rhetoric.”

However, the journal added “The perils of a joint appearance with Lavrov quickly became apparent at a news conference Friday morning when Borrell was ambushed by the Russian government-controlled news agency Sputnik with a question about Cuba, in which he was baited into condemning the U.S. embargo on Havana. Adding a dash of trolling, the Sputnik journalist said the Cuba question was suggested by “American colleagues.” The same journalist also turned the tables on Borrell by asking a question about alleged human rights abuses in Latvia. ”

Borrell called on Russia on Tuesday to release Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny immediately, saying the verdict of the Russian court flouted Russia’s rule of law commitments.

“The sentencing of Alexey Navalny runs counter (to) Russia’s international commitments on rule of law & fundamental freedoms. It goes against the verdict of ECHR, which ruled this case arbitrary and unreasonable,” the EU high representative said in a tweet, with reference to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

“I call for his immediate release,” the tweet concluded. 

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