Russia Warns EU It’s Ready to Break Off Ties Over Sanctions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that his country is ready for a break in ties with the European Union if the bloc imposes sanctions that damage Russia’s economy.

“We’re ready for that,” Lavrov said in an interview on the Solovyev Live YouTube channel on Friday. “If we see again, as has happened many times before, that sanctions are imposed that pose risks for our economy, including in the most sensitive areas.”

Russia’s top diplomat added: “We don’t want to isolate ourselves from peaceful life but we have to be ready for that. If you want peace you have to prepare for war.”

The 27-member EU is working on a proposal to sanction Russia over the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Navalny, who suffered a near-fatal nerve-agent attack he and Western governments blamed on Russia’s secret services, was sentenced to 2 years and 8 months on Feb. 2 for violating the probation terms of an earlier suspended fraud conviction.

Tensions between Moscow and Brussels are rising following EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s visit to the Russian capital last week, when Lavrov used a joint press conference to disparage the bloc as an unreliable partner.

Russia simultaneously announced the expulsion of three diplomats from Poland, Germany and Sweden for their “recorded participation” in protests against Navalny’s imprisonment. The EU countries rejected the accusation and reciprocated in kind.

Trade Ties

Navalny received treatment in Berlin for his chemical poisoning and was detained immediately as he returned home in mid-January.

Germany is aware of Lavrov’s comments and considers them “strange,” Andrea Sasse, a German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, told reporters at a regular government news conference in Berlin Friday.

The EU is Russia’s biggest trading partner. The bloc imported $162.5 billion of goods from Russia in 2019 compared to 84.4 billion of exports.

Russia doesn’t want to break off ties but has to be prepared “in case madness prevails and such unfriendly developments take place” on the EU’s side, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday on a conference call. “We must ensure the security of the most sensitive strategic areas and be ready to replace with national infrastructure everything that we may be deprived of.”

Sanctions Call

Navalny’s allies have urged the EU, U.K. and U.S. to sanction 35 top Russian officials and business figures close to the Kremlin.

Russia, which denies any role in poisoning Navalny, has rejected Western calls to free the Kremlin critic and accuses him and his aides of working in the interests of foreign governments. Authorities have cracked down on mass protests over Navalny’s jailing, detaining more than 11,000 people since last month and prosecuting his associates, provoking international condemnation.

The new U.S. administration of President Joe Biden has said it will coordinate with its allies on possible punitive action against Russia.

Lavrov accused Western nations of using the case as a pretext to increase pressure on Russia. “If it hadn’t been Navalny, they would have found something else,” he said.

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