EU Must Get Tougher to Counter ‘Assertive’ Russia, Romania Says

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The European Union must take a tougher stance against Russia’s “provocative and assertive” relationship with the bloc, according to Romania’s foreign minister.

Sanctions over the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the recent poisoning of opposition leader Alexey Navalny have had a limited impact, Bogdan Aurescu said in an interview. A new strategy to deal with the Kremlin should also seek to boost independent Russian media and civil society, and aim for a more “influential” EU role in solving regional conflicts, such as the one between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, he said.

EU Must Get Tougher to Counter ‘Assertive’ Russia, Romania Says

“There’s clear room for improvement and there’s a need for broader actions,” Aurescu said Friday by phone. He expects the EU Council to discuss the issues at its next meeting this month.

The EU has faced criticism for resisting calls by Navalny’s allies to sanction billionaires and bankers close to President Vladimir Putin’s government, instead opting to penalize four Russians from the law-enforcement sphere. While the U.S. has initially followed suit, it’s also considering measures that could target oligarchs or the nation’s sovereign debt.

The EU’s response to Navalny’s attempted assassination followed a visit to Moscow last month by its foreign-policy chief, Josep Borrell, during which his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, disparaged the bloc. Aurescu said it’s clear Russia doesn’t want to have a normal relationship with the EU.

Vaccine Crisis

While some sanctions may not have had “a spectacular effect,” a failure to impose any punishment “would have sent a totally negative signal to the international community,” he said.

Aurescu singles out coronavirus vaccinations, which have taken on a geopolitical element, as an area where more action is needed. Russia and China are already shipping their domestically developed shots to EU member state Hungary, as well as countries bordering the bloc, including Serbia and Montenegro.

“I hope the EU will speed up its efforts to become present in these countries with approved vaccines to avoid a worsening of this vaccine crisis,” Aurescu said.

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