Putin ‘unfriends’ countries as they condemn Russia’s aggressive behaviour

Apr 30, 2021 | International, News

European countries have started to choose sides, either for or against Russia since the Kremlin raised global military tensions beyond its border with Ukraine.

The Kremlin announced it was creating a list of “unfriendly” countries officials describe as being unfairly aggressive to Russia. It’s a list that would be constantly reviewed and renewed.

That list hasn’t been published yet, but one country was disclosed.

“As we understand, this whole story started with another round of unfriendly actions by the U.S.A.,” said Foreign Ministry representative Maria Zakharova to state-owned television network Russia-1.

“As you understand, and as I can confirm it, obviously, the U.S.A. appears on the list,” Zakharova said.

Such unfavourable relations are mutual. The U.S. government initiated a Foreign Malign Influence Response Center in 2020, where analysts could review and prevent foreign countries’ hostile influence on the U.S. by — but not limited to — Russia, Iran North Korea and China.

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but no date has been set. U.S. officials have disclosed the Ukrainian conflict would be discussed.

He has already issued an “executive order authorizing new measures, including sanctions to address specific harmful actions that Russia has taken against U.S. interests” in mid-April.

“I affirmed U.S. support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Biden said on April 15. “And I strongly urged (Putin) to refrain from any military action.”

Andrii Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, confirmed American support following the recent buildup and withdrawal of Russian troops by the Ukrainian border.

“Speaking of concrete steps, the assignment of a U.S. special envoy to resolve and end the war in Donbas is being actively discussed today,” he said. The region of Donbas in eastern Ukraine was taken over by Russian troops in 2014.

Russian officials meanwhile blacklisted eight EU citizens on April 30. Among them are David Maria Sassoli, the president of the European Parliament, Vera Jourova, the deputy president of the European Commission for Values ​​and Transparency, and Jacques Maire, a member of the French Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, according to the official statement on the Foreign Ministry website.

French President Emmanuel Macron also backed Ukraine in a telephone conversation with Putin on April 26, 2021.

Macron was concerned about Moscow concentrating military forces close to the Ukrainian border and called Putin to live in peace, according to the French news outlet France24.

Russia said Putin described to the French President the “provocative actions” by Ukraine over Donetsk.

“In turn, Emmanuel Macron briefed the Russian President on the recent talks with the President of Ukraine in Paris,” the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote an outline of the conversation.

Meanwhile Italy reported arresting in March an Italian naval officer and the expulsion of two Russian diplomats, including a military official, all suspected of espionage.

The Italian officer was a captain of a frigate and was accused of handing over NATO communications details to a Russian embassy military official on March 30. The leaked information was classified as “top secret”.

The Russian officer was released soon after he was arrested because of diplomatic immunity.

Russia, in turn, gave an Italian official in Moscow a 24-hour notice on April 26 to leave a country.

In late March, Bulgaria expelled two Moscow diplomats for suspected espionage, armoury explosions, and the poisoning of three Bulgarian citizens. Russia responded with the removal of Bulgarian officials. Sofia meanwhile asked Russia on April 29 to help investigate the incidents.

FILE PHOTO: Bulgarian arms trader Emilian Gebrev talks to the media in Sofia, Bulgaria, January 18, 2019. Picture taken January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Dimitar Kyosemarliev/File Photo
Bulgarian arms trader Emilian Gebrev talks to the media in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Jan. 18, 2019. He was poisoned in an allegedly targeted hit by Russian spies in 2018. Photo credit: REUTERS/Dimitar Kyosemarliev/File Photo

The German government showed solidarity with other European countries and called Russia to remove their troops from the Ukrainian border. Recently Ukraine asked Germany to supply weapons for defensive purposes.

But Heiko Maas, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, was against fulfilling the request, and he protested against the cancellation of a natural gas pipeling from Russia “Nord Stream-2” and the placing of other sanctions on the Kremlin.

Mass and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called on Brussels to not be as strict with measures to Russia and urge more open dialogue with Moscow.

“The sanctions already imposed by the EU were the right thing to do,” Kurz said. “Peace on our continent can only be achieved with Russia, not against it.”

Miloš Zeman, president of Czech Republic, despite accusations of the Kremlin being involved in an arms depot explosion in 2014, hasn’t fully laid blame on the Russians.

“We are working with two investigative theories. The first, original one, that there was an explosion resulting from inexpert handling of explosives, and the second that it was an operation of a foreign intelligence service,” Zeman said on TV.

“I take both of these theories seriously,” he said.

The Czech government however ordered 81 Russian embassy workers to leave the country by May, while Russia retaliated by ordering 110 Czech diplomats out.

Russian spies Alexander Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga are alleged to have installed an explosive material in the Czech armoury and then fled the country. It was later discovered the stored weapons were destined for Ukraine as it faced Russian takeovers of Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk.

A view of the Russian embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, April 29, 2021. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
A view of the Russian embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, on April 29. The two countries have been expelling diplomats over alleged Russian spy activity. Photo credit: REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Emilian Gebrev, a Bulgarian weapon seller, acknowledged the weapons stored were his and were headed to the Ukrainian front, in an email to the New York Times.

Several Eastern European countries expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with other countries or because of suspicious activity. Russia was responding in a similar manner.

Meanwhile Putin signed a decree April 24 ordering soldiers in reserves to participate in military training in 2021.