quienes elijieron a Borrell, responsables de su desastre en Moscú

FROM RUSSIA, NO LOVE: If the goal of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s visit to Moscow was to clarify the state of Russia relations ahead of a strategic discussion among the 27 EU heads of state and government in March, that much at least was accomplished: The Kremlin showed it has no respect for Brussels and there is little in the way of a relationship to speak of.

Cringe: People will remember Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s humiliation of Borrell as a notable — and not particularly admirable — low point of EU-Russia relations. Friday’s disastrous news conference — during which Borrell stood by, offering little push-back, as Lavrov called the EU an “unreliable partner” — was just the start of things, POLITICO’s David Herszenhorn writes in to report. It was at a working lunch, after the news conference, that Borrell and his team learned from Twitter that Russia had expelled three European diplomats — one each from Germany, Sweden and Poland — for allegedly attending demonstrations in support of jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

The reaction: An official who was in Moscow told Playbook that Borrell showed the tweets to Lavrov and demanded to know what was going on, and noted the particular insult of such a move being taken during his official visit. Lavrov, according to the source, blamed the tweets on a leak and said the expulsions were not supposed to happen until Monday — which hardly makes things better. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the expulsions in strong terms, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the German official concerned had merely exercised his diplomatic duty of observing developments in Russia. “If the Russian Federation does not reconsider its decision, this will not remain unanswered,” Maas said.

MOIN, as we Northern Germans say, and welcome to today’s Playbook, coming to you today from Hans von der Burchard. I’m a reporter with POLITICO’s Brussels politics team, covering mainly German-EU relations, the European Commission and EU-Latin America relations (more on the latter below).

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… MORE DISINGENUOUSNESS: When Borrell asked Lavrov on Friday to visit Navalny in prison, the Russian foreign minister replied that he should go through the proper channels and make a request to the court. That’s an absurd suggestion given protocol demands Borrell should direct any such request through Lavrov.

Fallout: The foreign policy chief’s overall weak performance in Moscow — on full display during the press conference — did nothing to improve Moscow’s perception of the EU. The question now is if the European Council in March, where EU leaders will discuss Russia, will change things. What is likely is Borrell himself will feel consequences: Two EU diplomats tell our own Jacopo Barigazzi that he will have even less room to manoeuver since he has lost the confidence of some European leaders, weakening further the already-fragile European External Action Service (EEAS).

Silver lining? Officials close to Borrell tried to draw at least some positive lines from the debacle, noting it took some courage for him to go to Moscow and demand the release of Navalny and protesters in person. And perhaps there is a grain of truth to that. But Borrell also appeared to demonstrate a lack of understanding of how Russia does business and what it takes to earn the Kremlin’s respect.

At the same time, Russia may have missed its last, best opportunity to open a new dialogue with the EU just as the new Biden administration has taken over in Washington, promising a reinvigoration of the transatlantic alliance. Borrell’s task now is to ensure any new measures approved by the European Council deliver a fitting response not just to Navalny’s imprisonment, but also take account of the public disdain demonstrated by Lavrov for the EU as a global actor.

Coming up today: At 1 p.m., the Polish permanent representation to the EU will organize a videoconference between Navalny’s team and a group of EU ambassadors, which representatives from the U.K., U.S., the European Commission and the EEAS will also attend. They will discuss EU-Russia relations in the aftermath of Borrell’s trip as well as possible further sanctions against Moscow.

Borrell’s version of events: The EU’s high representative published a blog post Sunday evening to give his perspective on his “very complicated visit” to Moscow. “At times the discussion with my Russian counterpart reached high levels of tension, as I called for Mr. Navalny’s immediate and unconditional release, as well as for a full and impartial investigation into his assassination attempt,” Borrell wrote. “An aggressively-staged press conference and the expulsion of three EU diplomats during my visit indicate that the Russian authorities did not want to seize this opportunity to have a more constructive dialogue with the EU. While not fully unexpected, this is regrettable, also, dare I say, from a Russian strategic perspective.” He added: “We will have to draw the consequences.”

IN THE PIPELINE: Just as Borrell returned to Brussels on Saturday, work on Gazprom’s natural gas pipeline — the one German officials insist should not be shelved over tensions with Moscow or Navalny’s poisoning and imprisonment — resumed in Danish waters on Saturday, defying U.S. sanctions, America Hernandez reports.

politico, 8-II-21