Russian Visit: the EU’s Road to Canossa

The Russians never took the EU, let alone the EEC, very seriously. But it is probably not a good idea to show it. Like Henry Kissinger, they ask themselves the question: whom do I call if I need a decision? Obviously Mrs Merkel. It is certainly not Josep Borrell, charged with implementing, not making, EU policy on external affairs, including Russia. His lamentable visit to Moscow last week was like an unforgettable blind date that he was initially reluctant to acknowledge had been an utter disaster so as not to embarrass himself among his friends who wanted to know how it went. At first Borrell pretended that it was not so bad, that all was well, though tricky. Now his blog reveals stark reality. It turned out to be an occasion one wants to forget as soon as possible and certainly not repeat. The Russians, believe it or not, are baffled.

Novaya gazeta‘s coverage of the EU from the inside is much the best among Moscow’s newspapers. Today it quotes at length from Borrell and the reaction at Smolenskaya, the Russian Foreign Ministry, where an “anonymous” official expressed “astonishment” at learning of Borrell’s comments. Contrary to what we were originally led to believe, Borrell claims that he mainly went to Moscow to talk about the situation of opposition leader Alexei Naval’ny whom, he says, he could not meet because he was in court! But of course he knew that before he went and that his why others in Brussels pleaded with him not to go and make a fool of himself.

Only now does Borrell reveal that he found the press conference “aggressively organised” by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “harsh” and that EU relations with Russia are very tense. But what does he expect from a man more comfortable shaking hands with all manner of Third World dictators? His entire world is rough and ready, the Molotov style in which he was reared, more like a wrestling ring than an old style diplomatic court; the stuff of nightmares for sophisticates from the EU. Merkel, in stark contrast, grew up in the “Russian zone” of Germany. She knows exactly whom she is dealing with. So what happened to Borrell was really entirely predictable. As the Novaya gazeta correspondent points out, at the said press conference a “journalist” supposedly asking a question instead delievered “an extended statement, replete with all the ‘necessary’ answers…of the kind that has become a tradition with us.” But instead of retaliating bluntly and then walking out, Borrell returned home to vent his sorrows: “Dear Diary, the date did not go quite as well as I had hoped…”

Ritual humiliation, though perhaps not as bad for Borrell as the Holy Roman Emperor in 1077 A.D. waiting on his knees in a blizzard outside the castle at Canossa for three days and three nights for papal absolution.

Novaya gazeta, 10 February 2021:

Жозеп Боррель: «Европа и Россия расходятся»

Глава европейской дипломатии оценил итоги визита в Москву: «высокий уровень напряженности»

My visit to Moscow and the future of EU-Russia relations

07/02/2021 – 19:37

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