Borrell visit: no holds barred for Moscow?

EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell travelled to Moscow last week to engage in dialogue on controversial issues such as Navalny's imprisonment. But even as his joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in progress, Russia expelled three EU diplomats. Commentators are shocked by both this affront and the weakness of the European Union. But some also see opportunities.

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taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

Sputnik could rekindle dialogue

The pandemic could open up opportunities for ending the big chill, the taz believes:

“Just remember the attacks of 9/11, 2001 in the US, where Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush - really not a dream team - suddenly found themselves side by side in a fight against Islamic terror. Now one enemy is called Covid-19 and the other the Russian 'miracle weapon' Sputnik V. Even if Lithuania's Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė rejects the idea of purchasing the vaccine and accuses the Kremlin of using the jab to enhance its geopolitical profile, it's worth finding out whether Sputnik can immunise against more than just a disease. And if so, contrary to what many believe, the pandemic could even be an opportunity.”

Adevărul (RO) /

EU must impose sanctions immediately

Writing in Adevărul, Romanian MP Matei Dobrovie calls on the EU to finally toughen its stance on Russia:

“After the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and his arrest and conviction, the EU's reaction must be resolute: sanctions! We no longer have anything to discuss with an authoritarian criminal regime that tramples on fundamental rights and freedom of expression and brutally suppresses all opposition. Over 5,000 people have been arrested across Russia for protesting against corruption and human rights abuses - that is unacceptable. These people must be released immediately. That should be the EU's message. ... It must radically change its conduct towards Russia - otherwise it will be completely discredited.”

El País (ES) /

Talking turkey requires backing

Borrell's weak performance is not his own fault, finds El País:

“On the day of Borrell's Moscow visit, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on the phone to his Chinese counterpart and, by his own account on Twitter, said clearly that the US would not hesitate to defend its own interests, stand up for democratic values and hold Beijing accountable for its abuses. Blinken described Beijing's persecution of the Uighur Muslim minority as 'genocide'. There is no reason why democracies should keep their mouths shut, certainly not at a historical moment like this. The difference, and the problem, is that Blinken has a united government and a major military power behind him while Borrell's mission only had a divided group of 27 member states.”

Népszava (HU) /

The loser is in the Kremlin

The visit was undoubtedly a fiasco, but not for the EU, says Népszava:

“Russia's president is floundering in his own trap. Like a loose cannon, he is burning the last bridges that connect him to the civilised world. His greatest pain is that he is being pushed to the periphery. This has caused him enormous frustration for years. ... Putin wanted to humiliate the EU, but in doing so he has only deepened his own isolation.”

Alfa (LT) /

Corks popping in the Kremlin

The EU is being humiliated by Moscow, Edward Lucas complains in Alfa:

“It's worth remembering that the EU is more than three times bigger than Russia in population terms, and ten times bigger in GDP terms. But the inexperienced Borrell behaved more like a supplicant. He meekly allowed the Russian lie-master, Sergei Lavrov, to dominate a joint press conference, setting the agenda. ... In a further humiliation for Borrell, Russia greeted him by expelling three diplomats from EU countries. On his return home, Borrell warned that the EU will reflect carefully on Russia's 'regrettable' behavior. ... Meanwhile in Germany, the new CDU leader Armin Laschet says that the row with Russia should not jeopardize the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz agrees. 'Pop' go the corks in Moscow.”

Le Monde (FR) /

No intention of starting a dialogue

At least the visit brings clarity, Le Monde sums up:

“It's a real slap in the face - a humiliation for the former Spanish foreign minister and an expression of total contempt for his office, the weakness of which was highlighted by his visit. ... By entering the lion's den at a time of extreme political tension in Russia, Josep Borrell underestimated the cynicism of Vladimir Putin's regime and overestimated his ability to deal with it. ... The message that the Russian leadership reaffirmed on this disastrous visit is that it has no intention of entering into a dialogue with the EU. For those who were still in doubt, that is now clear.”

Ukrajinska Prawda (UA) /

Europe still hasn't understood

The EU diplomat's trip was completely in vain, says Ukrayinska Pravda:

“None of the red lines regarding Ukraine have shifted, but the EU no longer seems to see any point in talking about it with Russia, because no one is going to convince anyone on this subject. ... With the human rights violations in Russia it will be the same. They too will fall victim to the European capitals' desire to 'continue the dialogue despite the differences'. Incidentally, these were the words Angela Merkel used when commenting on Russia's expulsion of German diplomats. In short, things are going just the way the Russian Federation wants them to. The destruction of another of the 'EU's red lines' is going according to plan.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

Blows will rain down even harder

Moscow's treatment of Borell speaks volumes about its future policy, Helsingin Sanomat explains:

“It's now clear that the Russia the EU is facing is even more dangerous than previously believed. That's why it must act even more as a united bloc. Meanwhile the Russian leadership has been challenged in a new way. The popular uprising in Belarus frightened the power clique. ... But the anger really started with Navalny's return and the video now circulating in Russia exposing the corruption of Putin's inner circles. Russia's future direction will certainly not be decided on the street. Putin has invested time and money into safeguarding his power with a machinery of repression comprising the National Guard and electronic surveillance. So far it has only been running at half power, but now the padding is out of the gloves and the blows are raining down hard and fast.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Belarus experience makes Putin feel safe

In any event Putin doesn't need to fear a serious reaction from the EU in the event of a new crackdown, Rzeczpospolita predicts:

“Putin has carefully analysed the West's reaction to democratic uprisings, first in Venezuela and then in Belarus. And he has come to a simple conclusion: by ruthlessly silencing protests after the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, he risks nothing. In January 2019, Donald Trump recognised Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president, but very little changed. ... Not even the many months of courageous protests in Belarus have prompted the EU to impose serious sanctions on Alexander Lukashenka's regime. It confined itself to symbolic punishments like an entry ban for individual officials who were directly responsible for the repression and had therefore already decided not to go to the West anyway.”