Under current affairs, EU foreign ministers took stock of the latest international developments. Among other issues, they reviewed the events around the detention of Alexey Navalny in Russia, touched on relations with the United States, and discussed all aspects of the relations with Turkey and the situation in Venezuela.
As main agenda item, ministers engaged in a forward-thinking discussion related to Climate and Energy Diplomacy, focusing on the external dimension of the European Green Deal, and adopted conclusions.
High Representative Borrell briefed ministers on Russia and the events around the detention of Alexey Navalny. The Council condemned the mass detentions and police brutality over the weekend and called on Russia to immediately release Mr Navalny and all those detained. In this context the High Representative informed the Council about his upcoming visit to Moscow.
Speaking at the press conference following the Council meeting, Josep Borrell said, in particular: “First, we started with Russia and the events around Alexey Navalny. The Council considered the arrest of [Mr] Navalny and crackdown on [his] supporters completely unacceptable, condemned the mass detentions and police brutality over the weekend. We call on Russia to release Mr Navalny and [all] those detained.
I informed the Council about my intention to visit Moscow, attending a long-lasting invitation from [Russian Foreign Affairs] Minister [Sergei] Lavrov. It is going to take place in the first week of February. It will be a good opportunity to discuss with my Russian counterpart all relevant issues, to pass clear messages on the current situation and on the contentious [areas] of rights and freedoms. And also to have a strategic discussion on our relations with Russia, since in March the European Council is going to have a session devoted to this relationship with Russia. I think it is good, before the European Union Council discusses strategically about this relationship, to discuss with our Russian counterpart.”
When asked about possible expansion of sanctions against Russia in response to the recent development, EU High Representative Borrell explained: “Some Member States raised the question of which would be a good answer to the situation in Russia with respect to Mr Navalny and the people – about 3000 people – arrested. Some raised this question, others not, but there has not been any concrete proposals on the table. The Council is ready to react as required by the circumstances and to take appropriate actions if the circumstances require it, but today there has not been any kind of proposal – and as consequence any kind of decision – about it.”
Answering to the question on whether he would ask for a meeting with Mr Navalny during the visit to Moscow, Josep Borrell stressed: “We do not do things this way. I would be very happy to see Mr Navalny. I will try to keep in touch with the Russian civil society – we do that every day at different levels. But this is a visit to the Russian government and I will talk for sure with the Russian government about all these issues and about [Mr] Navalny also, no problem. There is no fixed date, there is no schedule already fixed to [know] what the European Council will do depending on what is happening, but our answer will depend on the development of the situation.
And if the European Council has to talk about the relationship with Russia in March, I think this is a good moment to go and to talk and reach out to the Russian authorities. I do not share the opinion that when things go bad you do not talk. On the contrary, that is the moment in which talking is even more required.”