Russia said Friday that it is prepared to cut ties with the European Union if the bloc slaps economic sanctions on the Kremlin in retaliation for the detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was asked in an interview on the Russian YouTube channel Solovyov Live whether Moscow is moving toward severing ties with the EU.
“We proceed from the fact that we’re ready [for that]. In the event that we again see sanctions imposed in some sectors that create risks for our economy, including in the most sensitive spheres,” he said.
“We don’t want to isolate ourselves from global life, but we have to be ready for that. If you want peace then prepare for war,” Lavrov said in the interview which appears on a YouTube channel run by Russia’s foreign ministry.
The comments come on the same day that Navalny, a prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, appeared in court to face slander charges that he has denounced as politically motivated.
Navalny, who narrowly survived a poisoning in August that is widely seen as an attempted assassination by the Kremlin, was jailed after his return from Germany, where he was receiving treatment after the attack.
During his court appearance, Navalny, a lawyer, verbally parried with the judge from behind glass in his defendant’s cage, accusing him at one point of not knowing the law.
The slander charges against Navalny stem from his alleged defamation of a World War II veteran who appeared in a video backing constitutional reforms aimed at allowing Putin to extend his stay in office past 2024.
Last week, the EU’s high representative for foreign policy, Josep Borrell, visited Russia, reportedly to plead for Navalny’s release and in hopes of easing tense relations with the Kremlin. Instead, he was rebuffed and embarrassed, with Russia expelling three EU diplomats while he was holding talks.
After his return, Borrell, addressing the European Parliament earlier this week, said his visit had confirmed his view that Moscow wanted to sever ties with Europe and divide the West. He said the Kremlin sees democracy as an “existential threat.”
“The Russian government is going down a worrisome authoritarian route,” Borrell said on Monday. “There seems to be almost no room for the development of democratic alternatives … they are merciless in stifling any such attempts.”
In a recent editorial in the Moscow Times, an English-language daily, political analyst Vladimir Frolov suggested that instead of hurting Putin, the controversy surrounding Navalny actually plays into Russia’s hands.
“Domestically, it reinforces official propaganda about hostile interference from abroad, incursions on Russia’s sovereignty and the activity of foreign agents,” Frolov wrote. “On the foreign policy front, it frees the Kremlin from having to stage what the West calls ‘malicious actions’ with the goal of provoking retaliatory anti-Russian actions that would consolidate Russian society around the flag of the ruling regime.”