23:25 GMT01 March 2021
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    BRUSSELS (Sputnik) - EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Sunday that he knew about Moscow's decision to expel three EU diplomats through social media adding that he personally asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to reverse this decision, but "to no avail."

    Borrell visited Moscow from January 4 to 6. During the visit, the EU top diplomat had a wide-ranging discussion on the EU-Russia relations and the global geopolitical landscape with Lavrov. He also met with representatives of Russian civil society organizations.

    "Regrettably, at the very end of our meeting we learned, through social media, of the expulsion of three EU diplomats on unfounded allegations that they did not comply with their status as foreign diplomats by participating in demonstrations. I asked Minister Lavrov to reverse this decision, but to no avail," Borrell said in his blog.

    On Friday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the expulsion of three European diplomats — from Germany, Poland and Sweden — for participating in the recent unauthorized rallies in support of opposition activist Alexey Navalny.

    Borrell stated that it was a "very complicated" visit for him, adding that at times negotiations reached "high levels of tension."

    "My meeting with Minister Lavrov highlighted that Europe and Russia are drifting apart. It seems that Russia is progressively disconnecting itself from Europe," Borrell said.

    Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Moscow, Russia February 5, 2021.
    © REUTERS / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY
    Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Moscow, Russia February 5, 2021.

    The official added that one of the goals of his trip to Moscow was to express directly the EU’s strong condemnation of Navalny's jail sentence as well as the related mass arrests of thousands of demonstrators.

    Unauthorized demonstrations swept through Russian cities on January 23, January 31 and February 2 in support of opposition activist Navalny, who was detained upon arrival in Moscow from Germany, where he was treated for alleged poisoning. On Tuesday, the Simonovsky Court in Moscow rescinded Navalny's suspended sentence in the 2014 Yves Rocher fraud case over multiple probation breaches and replaced it with 3.5 years in prison.

    Many Western politicians have called for the immediate release of the activist. The rallies resulted in clashes with police, detentions, and arrests.

    The Russian Foreign Ministry earlier advised foreign politicians commenting on the situation with Navalny to respect internal law and deal with its own domestic problems. Lavrov noted that his Western counterparts are visibly happy to churn out nearly identical statements.

    The Russian presidential spokesman called organizers of demonstrations provocateurs, while President Vladimir Putin said that everyone had the right to freedom of opinion but "anything that goes beyond the law is not just counterproductive but dangerous."

    Tags:
    EU, criticism, Alexei Navalny, Sergei Lavrov, Josep Borrell
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