EU warns of ‘negative spiral’ in relations with Russia

EU warns of ‘negative spiral’ in relations with Russia

Bloc seeks coherent strategy to counter Putin’s deployment of ‘aggressive actions’

The EU needs to prepare for a “negative spiral” in relations with Russia, Brussels warned on the day of a high-stakes encounter between the Russian and US presidents in Geneva.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin had deliberately deployed “aggressive actions”, said the strategy paper to be released on Wednesday by the European Commission and the EU’s diplomatic service. As a result, “the EU needs to prepare for a further downturn of its relations with Russia as the most realistic outlook for the time being”.

The warning came as Putin and US president Joe Biden were meeting to tackle their own countries’ fraught relations. Among the issues on the table are alleged Russian cyber attacks, Moscow’s misgivings over Nato’s military expansion in Europe and the war in Ukraine.

“Our ambition should be to explore paths that could help change the current dynamics gradually into a more predictable and stable relationship,” the EU paper said.

At the same time, though, the bloc said it would aim to curb the resources the Russian government could use by stepping up scrutiny of financial flows from the country and enforcing EU laws to counter criminal activities originating there, including ransom attacks. 

“We must counter threats and malign actions more systematically,” the bloc said, adding that it would step up its cyberdefence capacity and counter disinformation work. The bloc was considering rules to “impose costs” on perpetrators of co-ordinated disinformation attacks, although these can be hard to attribute.

The document also detailed possible areas for co-operation, including climate change and people-to-people exchanges.

The EU is attempting to form a coherent policy on Russia out of the divisions in views between the bloc’s 27 member states. EU leaders plan to discuss relations with Russia at a summit later this month. 

While some countries such as the Baltic states and Poland want a tough line against the Kremlin, others such as France favour outreach. Germany is set to benefit from the contentious Nord Stream 2 project to pipe in Russian gas, which is now near completion. 

But all member states were angered by Russia’s treatment of Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief, on a trip to Moscow earlier this year. Moscow expelled several European diplomats while he was there.

Separately, EU countries agreed to extend sanctions on Belarus to 78 more people and add seven further entities to the current list, diplomats said.

The new travel bans and asset freezes, details of which are due to be released in the coming days, are a response to rights abuses since the disputed election of President Alexander Lukashenko last year and the Ryanair flight interception apparently designed to detain opposition activist Roman Protasevich. 

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