Polish President Andrzej Duda urged EU to step up sanctions against Russia following summary arrest and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption activist who has become Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic.
Protests erupted across Russia on Saturday after Mr Navalny was arrested on his return from Germany last week, where he was being treated after surviving an assassination attempt involving the nerve agent novichok developed by the Soviet Union Last year. More than 2,000 demonstrators were arrested in an often violent crackdown by the Russian security services. The US State Department condemned the “tough tactics” used by the authorities.
EU foreign ministers are due to discuss their response on Monday, and Mr Duda said talks over new sanctions were “absolutely justified” given both Mr Navalny’s treatment and continued involvement. Russia in the unresolved conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine, where it annexed Crimea in 2014. He said EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell should also reconsider his intention to surrender in Moscow next month.
“There is no other peaceful tool to put pressure on a state that is breaking the rules of international law. The primacy of international law is fundamental here. As long as international law is respected, there is no war. If international law is violated, it always results in conflict, ”Duda told the Financial Times in an interview ahead of Saturday’s protests.
“The only way to [avoid conflict] is to force respect for international law. The only way to do this without guns, cannons, and bombs is through sanctions. We are therefore ready to help reach consensus on this issue. “
Mr Duda said targeting Russian gas giant Gazprom would be one way to increase pressure on the Kremlin. “I think if we limit Gazprom’s possibility of economic operation on EU territory, in particular by making new investments, then things like respect for international law and human and political rights in Russia would start to move forward. , because it would be a serious gesture in the field of Russian economic interests ”, he declared.
While some other EU countries, notably the three Baltic states, share Poland’s hawkish stance, the bloc is deeply divided over policy towards the Kremlin. But the crackdown on protesters raised the stakes for Monday’s foreign ministers talks.
The EU has already imposed sanctions on six senior Russian officials for their alleged involvement in the poisoning of Mr Navalny. While the bloc may move towards new, targeted sanctions against individuals and institutions, more radical economic countermeasures – such as those imposed after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea – are likely to be controversial.
Nonetheless, Mr Duda said Mr Borrell’s planned visit to Moscow next month would be a mistake unless “the condition of his visit is the release of Mr Navalny”.
“Without it, I don’t think there is anything to talk about,” he says.
“Russia is not a country that you can trust, or that shares the same democratic values and goals as the Euro-Atlantic states. It’s a different country. It is a country that has shown for years that its imperial ambitions have returned.
Poland has long viewed close ties with the United States as a crucial part of its defense against a resurgent Kremlin. Under the presidency of Donald Trump, with whom Mr. Duda has forged close relations, Warsaw signed agreements for billions of dollars in US military equipment. Mr. Trump too promised to move 1,000 additional troops and the forward command of the US Fifth Corps to Poland.
Initial relations with the Biden administration were less straightforward, however. During his election campaign, Mr. Biden mentionned Poland – who disagrees with the EU on judicial changes which Brussels says undermine the rule of law – in the same breath as Belarus and the “rise of totalitarian regimes in the world”. Unlike other European leaders, Duda only congratulated Biden on his victory when it was confirmed by the Electoral College six weeks after the election.
Mr. Duda played down the two events, arguing that relations between Warsaw and Washington were “too important” to be made dependent on a single “remark or gesture”, and that it would have been “premature” to congratulate on the basis media decisions to call the results.
Instead, he said he hoped the close relationship between the United States and Poland would continue under the new administration and that Mr. Biden would continue Mr. Trump’s policy of engagement with Central Europe. .
Mr. Duda pointed out that under Barack Obama – a Democrat like Biden – the United States had stepped up its military presence in Poland, and said he would “strive” to persuade his new American counterpart to step up to again the US military contingent in Poland, arguing that it would be “in the interest of the NATO alliance”.
“I would be happy if [the US presence] has been further increased, and I would be happy if the US military moved even more of its infrastructure in Poland than it has done so far, ”he said. “We are ready to receive the US military here and create the conditions necessary for it to be stationed.”
Additional reporting by Michael Peel in Brussels