The European Commission sees it as "out of place" to draw parallels between the jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalni and the Catalan political prisoners, as the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov asserted last Friday before the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell. "There are enough guarantees in EU member states for citizens' rights to be respected," said EU foreign affairs spokesperson Peter Stano, noting that there are "fundamental differences" in how judicial systems operate in the EU and in Russia.
For his part, the main spokesperson for the European Commission, Eric Mamer, assured that Borrell has the support of president Ursula Von der Leyen and defended that the visit to Moscow was "necessary", despite the criticism. “He doesn’t regret going there,” Stano affirmed. On Tuesday, Borrell will give explanations to the Commission's maximum internal organ, the College of Commissioners, as well as to the plenary session of the European Parliament.
Despite this support (in public), yesterday the major German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (link in German) reported that there were growing calls in the ministries in Germany, Eastern European countries and Brussels itself for Borrell to resign.
Russia laughs at Spanish clangers
In addition, Russia has mocked Spain's attempts to deny the existence of political prisoners in the country. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova joked in a post on her Facebook account: "I have another democratic idol, this time a woman. Spanish foreign minister Arancha González Laya. She recently commented on the words by Sergei Lavrov on the situation of the Catalan separatists and literally said that 'there are no political prisoners in Spain, but there are imprisoned politicians'. In other words, more proof of the advanced technology of Western propaganda, aerial acrobatics!".
In addition to comments on the Catalan affair, Lavrov also used the occasion to accuse Europeans of acting "arrogantly" and in a "rude" way over the Navalni case during a tense press conference in Moscow, where Borrell had gone to demand the opposition politician's release from prison, although he also offered congratulations to the Kremlin on the success of its Sputnik coronavirus vaccine.
Shortly after the meeting, Russia announced the expulsion of three diplomats for allegedly participating in demonstrations in protest at Navalny's imprisonment - a claim that Brussels denies. For Borrell, the "aggressive" press conference and the expulsion of diplomats indicates that Russia does not want to maintain a "constructive dialogue" with Brussels. “While it’s not entirely unexpected, it’s unfortunate,” Borrell said on Monday.