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Russia prepared for split with EU

Though hesitant, top envoy says sanctions may cause schism by VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | February 13, 2021 at 3:42 a.m.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, facing defamation charges, writes a note Friday during a hearing in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow. Navalny is accused of slandering a World War II veteran. (AP/Babuskinsky District Court Press Service)

MOSCOW -- Russia is prepared for a split with the European Union if the EU imposes new crippling sanctions amid a dispute over the treatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the nation's top diplomat warned Friday.

In response to a question about Moscow's willingness to rupture links with the EU, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in televised remarks that Russia doesn't want to be isolated but must increase its self-sufficiency to face potential EU sanctions.

"We don't want to be isolated from international life, but we must be ready for that," Lavrov said. "If you want peace, you must prepare for war."

Asked if Russia is heading toward a split with the European Union, Lavrov replied, "We proceed from the assumption that we are ready for that."

He emphasized the importance of economic ties with the 27 EU nations, adding that Russia would continue engaging in mutually beneficial cooperation. At the same time, Lavrov said, Russia must prepare for the worst and increasingly rely on its own resources.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDEliUKOlcs]

"We must achieve that in the economic sphere, if we see again, as we have felt more than once, that sanctions imposed in some areas create risks to our economy, including in the most sensitive spheres, such as supplies of parts and components," the Russian foreign minister added.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov emphasized that Russia wants to maintain normal ties with the EU but needs to prepare for the worst, if the bloc takes hostile actions.

"If we face a destructive course that will hurt our infrastructure, our interests, Russia must be ready in advance for such unfriendly steps," Peskov said during a call with reporters when asked about Lavrov's comment. "We must be self-reliant. We must ensure our security in the most sensitive strategic areas and be prepared to replace everything we could be deprived of with national infrastructure in case madness prevails and such unfriendly actions take place."

European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said Friday that the EU welcomes "mutually beneficial cooperation whenever the other side is ready for such a cooperation and for such a dialogue," adding that Russia has "indicated that they are not really willing to go in this direction."

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrea Sasse described Lavrov's comments as "really disconcerting and completely incomprehensible to us." She told reporters in Berlin that Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had made Germany's grievances with Russia clear but also emphasized that "we are interested in cooperation with Russia."

Russia-EU relations have sunk to new lows over Navalny's arrest and imprisonment. The most prominent political foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin was arrested Jan. 17 upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recuperating from the nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have denied the allegations.

Last week, a court in Moscow sent Navalny to prison for two years and eight months for violating terms of his probation while recuperating in Germany. The probation stemmed from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated and the European Court of Human Rights has ruled to be unlawful.

Navalny was back in court Friday on a charge of defaming a World War II veteran who was featured in a video last year advertising constitutional amendments that allowed an extension of Putin's rule. Navalny called the people in the video "corrupt stooges," "people without conscience" and "traitors." He rejected the libel charges as part of Kremlin efforts to disparage him and could face a fine or community service, if convicted.

The hearings will resume Tuesday.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after visiting Russia last week that the 27-nation bloc must take a firm stance in its relations with Russia and ponder new sanctions in the wake of Navalny's prison sentence. While Borrell was meeting with Lavrov, Moscow announced the expulsion of diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden for attending protests in support of Navalny.

The three EU countries responded in kind Monday, each expelling a Russian diplomat.

Borrell has said he plans to submit proposals for possible actions against Russia when he chairs the next meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers on Feb. 22.

Information for this article was contributed by Daria Litvinova, Frank Jordans and Lorne Cook of The Associated Press.

In this photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. Russia is prepared to cut ties with the European Union if the EU imposes new sanctions amid a dispute over the treatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the nation's top diplomat warned Friday. In response to a question on Moscow's willingness to rupture formal relations with the EU, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in televised remarks that Russia doesn't want to be isolated but is ready to retaliate if the EU action hurts its economy. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. Russia is prepared to cut ties with the European Union if the EU imposes new sanctions amid a dispute over the treatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the nation's top diplomat warned Friday. In response to a question on Moscow's willingness to rupture formal relations with the EU, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in televised remarks that Russia doesn't want to be isolated but is ready to retaliate if the EU action hurts its economy. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus, greet each other prior to their talks in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. The European Union's top diplomat expressed hopes Friday that the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Russia will soon be used across the 27-nation bloc. During a visit to Moscow, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the Sputnik V vaccine is "good news for the whole mankind." (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus, greet each other prior to their talks in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. The European Union's top diplomat expressed hopes Friday that the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Russia will soon be used across the 27-nation bloc. During a visit to Moscow, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the Sputnik V vaccine is "good news for the whole mankind." (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo taken taken from a footage provided by the Babuskinsky District Court on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, left, enters a cage to attend a hearing on charges of defamation in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia. Navalny was accused of slandering a World War II veteran featured in the video promoting the constitutional reform allowing to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule. The politician slammed people in the video as "traitors" and stands trial on defamation charges. (Babuskinsky District Court Press Service via AP)
In this photo taken taken from a footage provided by the Babuskinsky District Court on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, left, enters a cage to attend a hearing on charges of defamation in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia. Navalny was accused of slandering a World War II veteran featured in the video promoting the constitutional reform allowing to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule. The politician slammed people in the video as "traitors" and stands trial on defamation charges. (Babuskinsky District Court Press Service via AP)
Police officers stand guard at the Babuskinsky district court prior to the start of the trial against Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. Navalny was accused of slandering a World War II veteran featured in the video promoting the constitutional reform allowing to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule. The politician slammed people in the video as "corrupt stooges" and "traitors." (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Police officers stand guard at the Babuskinsky district court prior to the start of the trial against Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. Navalny was accused of slandering a World War II veteran featured in the video promoting the constitutional reform allowing to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule. The politician slammed people in the video as "corrupt stooges" and "traitors." (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
In this photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, welcomes High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell to attend a joint news conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. The European Union's top diplomat expressed hopes Friday that the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Russia will soon be used across the 27-nation bloc. During a visit to Moscow, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the Sputnik V vaccine is "good news for the whole mankind." (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, welcomes High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell to attend a joint news conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. The European Union's top diplomat expressed hopes Friday that the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Russia will soon be used across the 27-nation bloc. During a visit to Moscow, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the Sputnik V vaccine is "good news for the whole mankind." (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell leave a joint news conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. The European Union's top diplomat told Russia's foreign minister Friday that the treatment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny represents "a low point" in the relations between Brussels and Moscow. EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov several days after Navalny was ordered to serve nearly three years in prison, a ruling that elicited international outrage. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell leave a joint news conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. The European Union's top diplomat told Russia's foreign minister Friday that the treatment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny represents "a low point" in the relations between Brussels and Moscow. EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov several days after Navalny was ordered to serve nearly three years in prison, a ruling that elicited international outrage. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)
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