Brussels | The Europeans, “very worried” for the health of Russian opponent Alexeï Navalny, will ask Moscow on Monday to have him hospitalized and, on another front with Russia, will try to calm tensions over Ukraine in order to avoid a new conflict in this country.
“Relations with Russia are not improving. On the contrary, the tension is increasing in various areas ”, deplored the head of the diplomacy of the European Union Josep Borrell at the beginning of an informal meeting with the foreign ministers of the 27.
The videoconference was to begin with a discussion on the expulsions of diplomats on both sides between Prague and Moscow, he said.
The ministers will then discuss the “very worrying” state of health of Alexey Navalny. “The Europeans have asked the Russian authorities to provide him with health care. Our request was not taken into account. Now that the situation is worsening, we are making the Russian authorities responsible for Mr Navalny’s health, ”warned Josep Borrell.
Another big subject: Ukraine and the “very dangerous” situation caused by the deployment of Russian troops at its borders. European ministers will have a meeting with their Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kouleba.
The Twenty-Seven will try to agree on the levers to be operated, but no sanction against Moscow is currently under discussion. “We will see during the day,” a European official told AFP.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of this option on Saturday “in the event of unacceptable behavior” from Russia.
Alexei Navalny stopped eating on March 31 to protest against his poor conditions of detention, accusing the Russian prison administration of denying him access to a doctor and medication despite suffering from a double herniated disc, according to his lawyers. His doctors said on Sunday that they had been barred from visiting him.
Europeans have adopted strong language in an attempt to save the 44-year-old opponent, whose supporters called for massive protests across Russia on Wednesday night.
Germany and France have “urgently” asked the Russian authorities to provide “adequate medical treatment” by doctors having “the confidence” of Alexey Navalny and demanded his immediate release.
The head of the French diplomacy Jean-Yves Le Drian evoked the “major responsibility” of the Russian president Vladimir Poutine and Washington warned the Kremlin against “consequences if Mr. Navalny died”.
“Avoid giving a pretext”
Doctors close to the opponent said on Saturday they feared he would go into cardiac arrest “at any minute” because of a “critical” level of potassium in the blood. They called for him to be placed in intensive care immediately.
Russian Ambassador to London Andrei Keline said Moscow would not let him “die in prison”.
During their meeting, the Europeans will also seek to support Ukraine, without offending Moscow.
“Conflict remains a possibility with such a deployment of troops. The danger of a conflict by accident cannot be ruled out, ”said a senior European official.
“Vladimir Putin is in difficulties internally and Russia is losing its influence in Ukraine and on the international scene. I don’t think there are any geopolitical calculations in his actions. Only fear, ”he analyzed.
Moscow has deployed “two armies and three airborne troop units on Russia’s western borders for exercises,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said last week.
Ukraine fears the Kremlin is looking for a pretext to attack it. President Volodymyr Zelensky asked NATO and the EU to speed up his country’s accession process to send the Kremlin “a real signal”, but this was refused.
“No one wants to give Russia a pretext. Both NATO and the EU support Ukraine’s aspirations, but without initiating the accession process, ”explained several diplomats from both organizations.