Russia said Thursday it would respond in kind if the EU imposes sanctions on Moscow over the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and a crackdown on protests by his supporters.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell earlier this week said he would propose the bloc impose new sanctions on Russia, as he blasted the imprisonment of Navalny and the crackdown.
Borrell made the comments during an address to the European Parliament after a chastening visit to Russia last week, during which Moscow announced the shock expulsion of three European diplomats.
“I would like to warn our EU partners against taking rash steps,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters Thursday.
Any new sanctions, she said, “will inevitably be followed by a proportionate response,” Zakharova added.
Navalny’s supporters have called on the EU to sanction the moneymen they accuse of protecting Putin’s wealth and financing his regime.
The EU’s ties with Russia have been tense since Moscow seized the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and fuelled the war in eastern Ukraine.
Relations worsened further after Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic opponent, was sentenced to almost three years in prison following his return to Russia last month from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack.
His jailing sparked widespread protests across Russia that saw at least 10,000 people detained.
EU foreign ministers are set to discuss their next moves on Russia at a meeting on February 22.
Russia Ready to Cut Ties With Europe – Foreign Minister
Russia is ready to cut ties with the European Union if it imposes further sanctions on the Russian economy, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday.
The heated rhetoric comes 10 days before top EU diplomats are scheduled to discuss new travel bans and asset freezes on President Vladimir Putin’s allies in response to the jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny after his nerve-agent poisoning.
“We’re ready,” Lavrov said when asked by pro-Kremlin spin doctor Vladimir Solovyov about whether Russia is “heading for a break with the European Union.”
Russia’s foreign policy chief tied his willingness to sever relations with the bloc to measures that would “create risks for our economy, including in the most sensitive areas.”
“We don’t want to be isolated from the world, but we must be prepared,” Lavrov said in an excerpt of the interview published on the Foreign Ministry’s website.
The Kremlin said at Friday’s briefing that Lavrov’s words had been misinterpreted, but stressed that Russia must get ready for “independence if madness prevails.”
The 27-member bloc is likely to hit Putin’s allies with travel bans and asset freezes as soon as later this month, Reuters reported Thursday, citing three unnamed European diplomats.
The state-run RIA Novosti news agency meanwhile quoted EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s spokesperson as saying that confidential work on drafting Russia sanctions is ongoing.
Borrell’s rare Moscow visit last week coincided with Russia’s expulsion of diplomats from three European countries accused of attending recent street demonstrations in support of Navalny.
The expulsions infuriated European capitals, according to Reuters, triggering German and French willingness to move ahead with sanctions in response.