Russia has expelled three European diplomats, from Germany, Poland, and Sweden, on grounds they attended illegal rallies in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, EU sources told EUobserver reported on Friday.
Another source told the news agency that the move was made during a joint press conference between EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow.
The bloc’s top diplomat has come under fire for his visit to Moscow, with several EU lawmakers calling for the cancellation of his visit over the arrest of the Kremlin critic, Navalny and the violent police crackdown on protesters demanding his release. Borrell justified his decision by saying that keeping the channels of communication open with Russia is the right strategy for the EU.
“My visit coincides with the arrest and sentencing of Alexei Navalny, and the arrest of thousands of demonstrators. As you can expect, I have conveyed to Minister Lavrov our deep concern and reiterated our appeal for his release and the launch of an impartial investigation over his poisoning,” Borrell said during the press conference with Lavrov.
Whilst stressing the EU’s “full respect” to Russia’s sovereignty and “its own responsibility regarding the fulfilment of its international commitments”, the EU’s foreign policy chief highlighted that rule of law, human rights, civil society, and political freedom are of key importance for the EU if the aim is to build a “common future”.
“This is the purpose of my visit. This is the first step. We will continue to disagree on several things, but we have to look for places in which we can agree and cooperate,” Borrell concluded.