"I returned to Brussels with deep concerns about the prospects for development of Russian society and for choices geostrategic of Russia," he said

Borrell reviews his visit to Moscow and Russia is "surprised"

PHOTO/Jennifer Jacquemart/European Commission - European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell

The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, expressed his deep concern on Sunday about the Russian authorities' refusal to engage in a "more constructive dialogue with the European Union". 

"My visit to Moscow highlighted that Russia does not want to take the opportunity to have a more constructive dialogue with the EU. This is regrettable(...) As EU, we will have to draw the consequences, reflect carefully on the direction we want to give to our relations with Russia and proceed in a united manner with determination," he said in a message posted on his Twitter account after returning from a trip to Moscow last week. For the first time, Borrell opened the door to activating the EU's recently approved rule allowing sanctions for human rights violations, similar to the US Magnitisky Act. If sanctions were to be imposed, the decision would have to be taken unanimously at the proposal of the member states. 

Russia is surprised with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell’s evaluation remarks on his visit to Moscow, because they differ from his previous statements, Russian Foreign Ministry Sergei Lavrov told the official Russian news agency TASS today. 

"We were surprised with Borrell’s evaluation of his visit results as it stands in contrast with statements he had delivered at a news conference in Moscow," the Foreign Ministry said commenting on the statement made by Borrell on his personal blog on Sunday following his visit to Moscow.

EU leaders will meet on February 22 to draw conclusions from Borrell's mission and to decide what action to take in response to the Kremlin's rejection of the demands for the release of opposition figure Alexey Navalny and the expulsion of three EU diplomats during the meeting between Borrell and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.  

The Navalny case has been the latest stumbling block in the relationship between the EU bloc and Moscow, first following his poisoning, and then his arrest on his return from Germany where he had received medical treatment. Borrell appealed to Russia to release the opposition leader, who will have to serve two years and eight months in jail for an old case, as well as others imprisoned for protesting against the Russian government.  

Atalayar_Serguei Lavrov, ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Rusia

"Of course, we have been talking about the Navalny case and the people detained in the demonstrations and I have conveyed to minister Lavrov our deep concern and reiterated our call for an impartial investigation into his poisoning," Borrell said. 

In response to the former foreign minister's complaints, the head of Russian diplomacy hit back, saying that in some European countries there had also been excessive use of force at demonstrations and "judicial rulings suspected of being politically motivated". The tension reached the point of personally attacking Borrell over the imprisoned Catalan pro-independence politicians.

"Catalan pro-independence leaders are in prison sentenced to ten years for organizing a referendum, a decision that the Spanish justice has not revoked despite the fact that courts in Germany and Belgium have ruled against it. Spain has defended its judicial system and has asked not to doubt its decisions. That is what we want from the West in terms of reciprocity ”, Lavrov argued, drawing a parallel with the Navalny case. 

The other major moment of tension during Borrell's visit came during the lunch with Lavrov, when the head of European diplomacy heard the news of the expulsion of three European diplomats - from Germany, Poland and Sweden - who were declared "persona non grata" on charges of participating in the opposition protests. 

According to the media, Borrell told Lavrov that he was outraged by the decision taken by the Russian authorities.  

The high representative insisted that "the rule of law, human rights, civil society and political freedom" are essential for building a "common future" between Russia and Europe.  

Josep Borrell took advantage of the visit to meet with representatives of the opposition and human rights defenders. In addition, a member of his team met with Navalny's lawyer. 

"My meeting with Minister Lavrov and the messages sent by Russian authorities during this visit confirmed that Europe and Russia are drifting apart. It seems that Russia is progressively disconnecting itself from Europe and looking at democratic values as an existential threat". This is the conclusion of the head of European diplomacy after the failed attempt to build bridges.

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