Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that his country is ready for a break in ties with the European Union if the bloc imposes sanctions that damage Russia’s economy.
“We’re ready for that,” Lavrov said in an interview on the Solovyev Live YouTube channel on Friday. “If we see again, as has happened many times before, that sanctions are imposed that pose risks for our economy, including in the most sensitive areas.”
Russia’s top diplomat added: “We don’t want to isolate ourselves from peaceful life but we have to be ready for that. If you want peace you have to prepare for war.”
The 27-member EU is working on a proposal to sanction Russia over the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Navalny, who suffered a near-fatal nerve-agent attack he and Western governments blamed on Russia’s secret services, was sentenced to 2 years and 8 months on Feb. 2 for violating the probation terms of an earlier suspended fraud conviction.
Tensions between Moscow and Brussels are rising following EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s visit to the Russian capital last week, when Lavrov used a joint press conference to disparage the bloc as an unreliable partner. Russia simultaneously announced the expulsion of three diplomats from Poland, Germany and Sweden for their “recorded participation” in protests against Navalny’s imprisonment. The EU countries rejected the accusation and reciprocated in kind.
Navalny’s allies have urged the EU, U.K. and U.S. to sanction 35 top Russian officials and business figures close to the Kremlin.
Russia, which denies any role in poisoning Navalny, has rejected Western calls to free the Kremlin critic and accuses him and his aides of working in the interests of foreign governments. Authorities have cracked down on mass protests over Navalny’s jailing, detaining more than 11,000 people since last month and prosecuting his close colleagues, provoking international condemnation.
The new U.S. administration of President Joe Biden has said it will coordinate with its allies on possible punitive action against Russia.