EU-Russia relations: on the brink of a break?

In the wake of Josep Borrell's ill-starred visit to Moscow, the EU Foreign Affairs Council is due to reach a decision on sanctions against Russia on February 22. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov warned that his country was ready to break off relations with the EU if certain sanctions were imposed, although the Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry later weakened this statement. Commentators assess Moscow's stance.

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Krym.Realii (UA) /

Europe has hit a sore spot

Lavrov's aggressive tone is an indication that criticism of Russian domestic policy hits those in power harder than criticism of their foreign policy, writes columnist Vitaly Portnikov in Krym.Realii:

“'If you want peace, prepare for war.' The fact that Sergei Lavrov used this ancient Roman saying [in a statement addressed to the EU during an interview] to justify Russia's foreign policy shows how far back in time Vladimir Putin's regime is willing to go simply to remain in power. … When conflicts emerged between the EU and the Kremlin over Russia's acts of aggression in Ukraine or, before that, in Georgia, Moscow seemed willing to maintain a civil stance. But when the Europeans began to discuss the problems in today's Russia, its nerves failed.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

Elite doesn't want to be on the sanctions list

The de facto retraction of Lavrov's statements is an indication of internal conflicts within Moscow's power elites, journalist and opposition politician Leonid Gosman writes in Echo of Moscow:

“They are not as united as they often seem. There are 15 to 20 people who are particularly close to Putin and who no longer have anything to lose with regard to the West. ... But the rest of the top ten thousand are not subject to sanctions and want to spend their easily earned money in peace - over there, in enemy territory. ... Apparently, the supreme commander has understood that Lavrov went too far and that his sabre-rattling is not making enemies of the intelligentsia and the young - to whom he has long been indifferent - but of his own people: governors, regional and federal ministers, business leaders - in short, everyone whom it is better not to make an enemy of. Because otherwise the danger of a palace revolt will increase.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Sputnik V strengthens Moscow's position

Thanks to the vaccine shortages Russia is getting away with behaving even more brazenly than during the Crimean crisis, observes Večernji list:

“This change is at least partly due to the success of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V. This has become a powerful geopolitical weapon in hands of Moscow, which is to blame for the current radicalisation of Russia's attitude towards the EU. ... Sputnik V is undoubtedly a major political success that Russia will try to exploit in the political arena - especially in its relations with the EU. ... The example of Hungary, which yesterday became the first EU member to start using the Russian vaccine, as well as Austria, Germany and other EU members that plan to use it bear witness to this.”

Kommersant (RU) /

Please stay away from domestic issues!

Commenting in Kommersant, political scientist Dmitry Suslov sees a clear red line in terms of topics the Kremlin is willing to discuss in the course of diplomatic communication:

“Russia is making it as clear as possible that the inclusion of domestic issues on the agenda is the red line that must not be crossed. And the same goes for open support for opponents of the regime, such as the EU has been demonstrating since August. At the same time, however, Moscow is also stressing that it welcomes dialogue with the EU on foreign policy issues and joint challenges (climate, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, Iran's nuclear programme, the Arctic) and is interested in cooperation in areas such as energy, science, education and tourism.”