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Top EU diplomat accuses Russia of not taking Europe seriously as tensions grow on Ukrainian border

BRUSSELS — A top diplomat from the European Union has accused Russia of not taking Brussels seriously and said it will likely backfire against Moscow.

The EU has grown increasingly frustrated for being left out of official talks with Russia. Last week, Russian officials met their U.S. counterparts and had discussions with NATO members. Although some EU countries are also members of NATO, top EU diplomats have not been included in these direct talks with Moscow.

The EU has thus far tried to ease tensions with Russia by meeting Ukrainian officials, and speaking regularly with the United States through some of its member states, namely Germany. Annalena Baerbock, the German foreign affairs minister, visited Moscow on Tuesday, for example, where she met with her counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

When asked if Russia takes the EU seriously, Stefano Sannino, secretary general of the European external action service, the diplomatic service of the EU, said: “No, it doesn’t.”

The relationship between the EU and Russia has soured since 2014, when the Kremlin illegally annexed Crimea. Their ties hit a new low last year when Lavrov claimed the EU was an “unreliable partner,” with Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, standing right beside him at a press conference.

“This is a choice that they [Russia] have made, but it will run contrary [to] their own interest, in the sense that they are dreaming of a multipolar world which is done by the United States, Russia and China. And unfortunately, the world is more complex with that,” Sannino said Wednesday.

“Russia is a little bit looking back around to the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th maybe; rather than look[ing] at the contemporary world and what it is, the European Union, today,” he added.

His comments echoed statements from the Ukrainian ambassador to the EU, Vsevolod Chentsov, who told CNBC this week that “Russia needs to reinvent itself as a modern state and stop clinching to the, let’s say, idea of the reconstruction of the Soviet Union.”

The European Union, which brings together 27 nations, is often criticized for its lengthy and bureaucratic way of policy making. In many matters, a consensus is needed for laws to be implemented.

However, Sannino said that despite its complexities, the EU is “an important player.”

“We may have our problems, and our difficulties and our complexities, and I’m not denying this. But this does not mean the European Union does not exist, or [it] is not an important player, from all points of view. We are what we are, 500 million people and the largest market, the most relevant market in the world,” he said.

New sanctions against Russia

A recent criticism toward the EU has been the lack of detail over potential new sanctions against Russia.

The bloc has said that there will be “massive consequences” in the event of further aggression from Russia to Ukraine, but it has not yet explained how far it is willing to go.

Ukraine’s Chentsov told CNBC that his country “would like to have more specifics, definitely” on this.

On Wednesday, Sannino told CNBC. “Sanctions, it’s something that, how to say, is very important to have in the drawer and to put on the table when the moment comes. And I think that the moment has not yet come for this to happen. As I said, we are still thinking that there is a space for dialogue and for diplomacy.”

If this is not the case, “we will be ready to put on the table a credible and substantial package,” he said.

Another question mark is what kind of move from Russia would trigger the EU to impose new sanctions. Key Ukrainian government websites were subject to a cyberattack on Friday, which Ukraine has already blamed Russia for.

When asked what kind of action will lead the EU to impose sanctions, Sannino said: “You have to see, which is the evolution of the situation on the ground. But I think that certainly any kind of military presence on the ground, or any kind of effort to generate a destabilization of Ukraine would entail a very strong response by the European Union, and by the, once again, by the West: United States, U.K., Canada and other like-minded countries.”

Representative of the People’s Police of the Lugansk People’s Republic shows a seized home-made strike drone equipped with a grenade launcher which was used by Ukrainian government troops, near Slavyanoserbsk, east Ukraine.
Alexander Reka | TASS | Getty Images

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