Brussels (8/2- 50/60). EU foreign policy chief Borrell tells Euronews he rejects Russian move to expel European diplomats. Commonly known as “PNG’ed”, the Persona Non Grata is the latest move by the Russian Federation to bring the EU-Russian relations to a new low.
The move, condemned by German Chancellor Angela Merkel as “unjustified”, comes on the day the EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell is in Moscow on a three-day diplomatic visit.
Josep Borrell condemned Russia’s move to expel European diplomats on Friday in an interview with Euronews. The EU’s top diplomat said that he learned of the news during his meeting with Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.
“During my meeting with Minister Lavrov I got news that three European diplomats were going to be expelled,” Borrell said. “I strongly reject the decision. I reject the allegations that these diplomats were performing activities incompatible with their role as diplomats.”
Tens of thousands of Russians protested last weekend in support of the Kremlin critic who was detained upon returning to Russia from Germany after recovering from being poisoned.
On Tuesday, a Moscow court handed him a 3.5 year prison sentence.
Navalny’s imprisonment has stirred popular protests across Russia, with some 11,000 people detained by security forces over the previous two weekends and demonstrations in Moscow and St Petersburg on Tuesday.
Over 1,000 protesters were arrested in Moscow alone, overwhelming the city’s jails.
Navalny appeared in court again on a defamation charge on Friday that he has also dismissed as politically motivated. “It bodes not well for the Russian president Vladimir Putin to return to a Cold War style of diplomacy”, a foreign diplomat in Moscow said.
Leaders from the EU and beyond have spoken out after Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was jailed for two years and eight months on Tuesday.
The 44-year-old anti-corruption investigator, who is Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic, was handed a 3.5-year sentence by a Moscow court for violating terms of his probation while recuperating in Germany from being poisoned.
He will serve a little less when taking into account his 10 months of house arrest.
Sweden said on Friday that Moscow’s decision to expel one of its diplomats was “completely unfounded,” refuting Russian accusations that he had taken part in a pro-Navalny demonstration.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry “considers this completely unfounded, which he also said on the Russian side” and “reserves the right to react appropriately,” it said in a written statement to AFP.
In an earlier statement issued by his spokesman Peter Stano, Borrell “strongly condemned” Russia’s decision to expel three European diplomats while he is visiting Moscow, and called for this decision to be “reconsidered”.
“The decision should be reconsidered. I stressed the European Union’s unity and solidarity with the member states concerned”.
While Borrell said that EU-Russia relations are at their lowest level, the bloc is not planning on issuing sanctions.
“For the time being there is no proposal but things can change, let’s see next week,” Borrell told Euronews. “This can be considered; nothing is excluded.”