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News - EU Countries Expel Russians in Diplomatic Tit-for-Tat

Relations between the European Union and Russia reached a new low on Monday as three EU countries expelled one Russian diplomat each in a tit-for-tat move.

On Friday, Russia barred three EU diplomats—one each from Germany, Sweden, and Poland—for alleged involvement in protests supporting Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. The EU states maintain their staff were merely observing the protests, in line with internationally-recognized diplomatic convention.

Europe’s retaliation comes after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell completed a three-day visit to the country that went from bad to worse.

Declaring before the trip that the EU “cannot say: ‘I don’t like you, I will stay in my corner’,” to rival countries, Borrell was pushed to the point of humiliation by his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. At a joint press conference, Lavrov accused the EU of being an “unreliable partner,” and cited the detention of Catalan leaders by Borrell’s native Spain as an example of the EU double standard on human rights.

The trip truly went sour once Borrell found out Friday, via social media, of the expulsion of the three EU diplomats while still in talks with Lavrov.

Drifting. In a blog post written after the trip, Borrell departed from diplomatic euphemisms in his assessment, stating that the two powers were “drifting apart.”

“It seems that Russia is progressively disconnecting itself from Europe and looking at democratic values as an existential threat,” Borrell wrote.

Although the spat is unlikely to completely derail cooperation on certain issues (especially now that Europe’s botched vaccine procurement strategy means they may be in need of Russia’s highly effective Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine), the episode may serve to harden public opinion in the bloc against Russia and drive the EU to align its policy more closely with the United States.

Arctic bombers. What U.S. policy toward Russia might entail came into focus on Monday, as CNN reported that the U.S. Air Force would soon deploy B-1 bombers to Norway for the first time, taking on missions that would bring it close to Russia’s northwestern border.

Gas troubles. The likelihood of a U.S.-EU lockstep on Russia policy is tempered by energy issues in Europe’s largest economy. Despite U.S. objections, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is on track to bring Russian gas to Germany, which, as Constanze Stelzenmüller writes in Foreign Policy, is one of three German controversies currently stymying U.S.-EU harmony.