EU leaders to task Borrell with preparation of Russia report

EU leaders will task EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell with preparing a report on the bloc’s strategy towards Russia, similar to the one presented in March on Turkey, according to draft summit conclusions seen by EURACTIV.

The draft conclusions are to condemn the “recent illegal and provocative activities of Russia in EU countries and elsewhere” and call for “unity” and “support to Eastern partners”.

EU leaders are set to reaffirm their commitment to the five principles governing EU policy vis-à-vis Russia – full implementation of the Minsk agreements; closer ties with Russia’s former Soviet neighbours; strengthening EU resilience to Russian threats; selective engagement with Russia on certain issues such as counter-terrorism; and support for people-to-people contacts.

According to the document, they will invite the EU’s chief diplomat to present a report on EU-Russia relations, in line with these principles, ahead of their next EU summit in June.

Earlier this year, Borrell had been already asked to submit a similar report on deteriorating EU-Turkey relations, which included a positive and negative agenda and spelt out more detailed potential steps towards Ankara if ties were to worsen, including sanctions.

According to EU officials, the Russia report is to buy time until the next EU summit in June where a comprehensive approach towards Moscow could be presented, also because they say it will be difficult to agree on a joint position between the EU27.

Elephant in the room will be Borrell’s controversial visit to Moscow earlier this year, which had raised eyebrows among EU diplomats and received heavy criticism after the EU first diplomat became part of a show in which he was humiliated by his hosts.

For fear Russia might listen into the EU leaders meeting, according to an instruction from European Council President Charles Michel, no mobile phones or tablets are allowed into the meeting room.

EU leaders had been already set to hold a ‘strategic debate’ on Russia in March, but a COVID-19 proof virtual summit had prevented them to openly discuss ties with Moscow in a video conference.

“As agreed at our videoconference in March, we will hold a strategic debate on Russia. Russia’s illegal and provocative steps continue both in the EU member states and beyond, the most recent of which was the so-called list of ‘unfriendly states’,” European Council Charles Michel wrote in his invitation letter to EU leaders on Friday (21 May).

In mid-May, Moscow had formally designated the Czech Republic and the US as “unfriendly states and restricted the number of staff employed by their embassies, prompting criticism from Brussels.

The frustration with Russia has increased since then, with tit-for-tat sanctions between several EU countries and Moscow the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, the Czech Republic’s accusation of Russia’s GRU military intelligence for two explosions at a remote weapons dump in 2014 and recent military actions on the Ukrainian border having exacerbated tensions.

Most recently, the EU foreign ministers agreed that provocations and negative surprises can be expected before the Russian parliamentary elections in autumn.

Answering a question from journalists about possible proposals for expanding sanctions against Russia, an EU senior diplomat told reporters that some EU countries at the summit might propose sanctions against Russia.

Ahead of the EU summit, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Saturday (22 March) responded to claims made by Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg that Moscow is not interested in dialogue with the EU.

“This is not true. There were many political, humanitarian and economic projects in which Russia and the EU participated. But they were blocked after Brussels had adopted anti-Russian sanctions and replaced dialogue with aggressive rhetoric, baseless accusations and disinformation campaigns,” Zakharova wrote on Facebook.

[Edited by Georgi Gotev]


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