On Monday, February 15th, 2021, Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia, put blame on the European Union for severing ties with Russia. He accused the alliance of countries of severing communications with Russia. Ties with the Union had been tense since after the Cold War. However, more recently, they are even more strained due to the detainment and mistreatment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny by the Russian government. Additionally, Russia had expelled German, Polish, and Swedish diplomats without informing the Union’s foreign policy chief. These events combined have raised the likelihood of additional sanctions on Russia. Lavrov has said that if such sanctions are dealt by the European Union, he would be ready to sever ties immediately with the bloc.
According to National Post, Sergei Lavrov stated, “The EU has consistently destroyed all mechanisms without exception,” and pinned the severing of ties on Brussels by saying, “The carcass of these relations was consciously destroyed at the initiative of Brussels.” This is backed up by Lavrov’s earlier statements back in early February when he said that there was open and sustained discrimination against Russian nationals in not only the Baltic states of the Union―such as Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia―but other countries such as Belgium. It was reported that Brussels was neglecting their liability to protect national minorities.
Lavrov spoke about these anti-Russian biases during talks with Josep Borrell, the European Union Minister of Foreign Affairs. In addition to this, the state of Crimea separated itself from Ukraine in early 2014. Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, had put troops in the Crimean peninsula to ensure that the people of Crimea were allowed to express their free will. The adjoining Ukraine argued that the intervention threatened its sovereignty. Russia ended up annexing Crimea and the state became a part of the Russian Federation.
Eventually, there was a coup in Kiev that dismantled Viktor Yanukovych as the Ukrainian president. At the time, Vladimir Putin had labeled the coup as “unconstitutional.” The European Union had said the opposite and had actually supported the overthrow. Several years later, Surgeon Lavrov continues to back Putin’s statement, adding that the Union’s support of the coup had “ruined the architecture of comprehensive ties with Russia” and that it had an apparent “anti-Russian tinge.”
Post-Cold War relations between Russia and the European Union were getting stronger. They were slowly but surely building a strong strategic partnership covering issues such as trade, climate change, education, culture, and security. Security was, and still is, a large issue as it covers counter-terrorism and conflict resolution in the Middle East. Over time, there has always been one major issue: a shared cluster of countries.
After the revelation of evidence that supported rebel fighters in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, the European Union started to distance itself from the largest of the post-Soviet states. It discontinued summits and suspended dialogues on visa issues. Not only the Union, but other countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and several other Western countries have imposed restrictive measures against Russia after its annexation of Crimea and consequent destabilization of Ukraine. Tensions have increased even more recently, with the detainment and mistreatment of Russian denouncer Alexei Navalny.
Previous threats were made on Navalny’s life. On a flight from Tomsk to Moscow, he fell ill and was taken to the hospital after an emergency landing. After waking from a coma, his physicians said that a toxin was mixed into a cup of tea he had at the airport, the only thing he had ingested on his journey. Early this year, Navalny was detained by Russia as a political prisoner on charges of slander. He appealed but was rejected by a Moscow court. This case has only further increased the tensions between Russia and the rest of the world.
Russia has preached of wanting to strengthen relations with other countries but has made little effort to do so on their own part. The country can start building back its relationship with the European Union by releasing Alexei Navalny and allowing free speech in the country.
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