Navalny: EU sends envoy to Moscow to probe Russian intentions

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The head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell goes to Moscow on Thursday to probe the Kremlin’s willingness to cooperate, a mission maintained despite the end of non-acceptance of requests for the release of Alexeï Navalny, sentenced Tuesday to nearly 3 years in prison .

• Read also: Pro-Navalny rallies: more than 10,000 arrests since January 23

• Read also: Russia: more than two years in prison for the opponent Navalny

The Spaniard knows he will have a difficult game against Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2004.

Moscow refuses any interference in its internal affairs and has warned Europeans against the “stupidity” of conditioning the future of their relationship with Russia to the fate of the opponent.

Alexeï Navalny was sentenced on Tuesday to serve a sentence imposed in 2014 for embezzlement to the detriment of the Russian subsidiary of the French group Yves Rocher. The sentence had been accompanied by a reprieve that the Russian justice canceled by declaring that Navalny had violated the terms of his judicial review.

Navalny: EU sends envoy to Moscow to probe Russian intentions

Josep Borrell is under no illusions. “I will probably not obtain the release of Alexeï Navalny”, he confided on Monday.

“Borrell won’t get anything, that’s for sure. Putin will never show his weakness, ”Alexeï Malachenko, of the Dialogue between Civilizations Research Institute, told AFP. But the political scientist does not exclude signals.

The European envoy has a mandate. It was finalized on Wednesday, as reservations were expressed by several member states and the European Parliament on the advisability of his trip.

In addition, some wanted to mention the threat of sanctions to put pressure on Moscow to obtain the release of the opponent.

Russia has been under economic sanctions since 2014, after the annexation of Crimea.

Requirements and consequences

The Spaniard leaves “bearer of demands on the Russian authorities. On his return, Europeans will consider the consequences to be drawn from this visit, ”French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian explained on Wednesday. “New sanctions are not excluded”, for its part warned Germany.

Josep Borrell will arrive in Moscow on Thursday evening for a two-day visit, until February 6. He has asked to see Navalny and he wants to meet with representatives of civil society.

Navalny: EU sends envoy to Moscow to probe Russian intentions

Foreign ministers will have a first discussion on February 22 on the results of his mission. They will have to draw conclusions and options to present to European leaders who will meet at the end of February, before their summit devoted to the relationship with Russia at the end of March.

The mission entrusted to Josep Borrell puts an end to a freeze on diplomatic contacts at European level since 2017.

He wanted to make this trip. “The relationship with Russia is complex. There are many security issues to discuss ”, he pleads. Ukraine, the Caucasus, Syria, Libya, Africa are all subjects of dispute with Moscow, underline his services.

“But there are also areas in which the EU and Russia cooperate, or should cooperate more,” such as the fight against global warming and the Iran nuclear deal, he insists.

The European Union must make itself heard in Moscow and the envoy has an obligation of result vis-à-vis the Twenty-Seven and the European Parliament. It has levers, but it “underestimates its ability to influence the behavior of the Russians,” laments Ian Bond, head of the foreign policy department of the Center for European Reform (CER).

“The Russian economy relies on Europeans to buy its hydrocarbons and sell it goods and services,” he underlines.

The Nord Stream 2 submarine gas pipeline project between Russia and Germany is a lever. France is calling for its abandonment and the Commission does not consider it a priority.

• Read also: Navalny affair: Paris calls on Berlin to abandon the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project (French minister)

“The stopping of Nord Stream is an issue for Putin. He fears it, ”confirms Alexeï Malachenko.

But Berlin refuses to abandon this private project set up with the Russian gas giant Gazprom. The decision to arrest him is “the responsibility of the Germans,” Jean-Yves le Drian observed on Wednesday.

Paris refused in 2014 to deliver two warships bought by Russia to sanction the annexation of Crimea, it is recalled in Paris.

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