Relations between the European Union and Russia, which still shows a strong attachment to its well-known Soviet practices, reached a new low this past week.
On the one hand, the institutional outrage of the forced landing of a Ryanair civilian plane in Belarus (with the sole intention of arresting dissident journalist Roman Protassevitch) provoked an unusual reaction in the bloc: an immediate response.
The 27 countries urged all airlines on the continent not to overfly Belarusian airspace. While the measure may seem somewhat timid (European Council President Charles Michel’s “Europe in action” tweet earned several online jibes), the truth is, as French President Emmanuel Macron explained from Brussels “Shall we start an armed conflict? Shall we break off relations? We’ve done it before… The policy of progressive sanctions on a frozen situation is no longer effective.”
For researcher Marie Mendras, an expert on Russia, “Russia’s involvement [in the incident] is obvious,” and she further explained that “official Russian reactions and Putin’s media reactions in Russia (…) congratulate Lukashenko on a very successful special operation.” Mendras added that “today we have in Europe not one dictator with Lukashenko, but two, the second one being Vladimir Putin”.
However, the diplomatic attrition doesn’t end there. Several French and German influencers denounced that a UK-based company offered them money to denigrate Pfizer by lying about its mortality rate. Although the message was in English, everything points to Russia once again being behind this smear campaign. As the French media Libération explains: “This very Monday morning, the Russian laboratory shared on Twitter the mortality rates according to vaccines, based on data attributed to the Hungarian government. And that the mortality rate among those vaccinated with Pfizer is 32 times higher than that of Sputnik. In its tweet, Sputnik also calls on ‘EU bureaucrats’ who ‘should not forget’ these data.”
In this delicate context, Macron told the bloc’s members that “we are at a moment of truth with Russia that forces us to profoundly rethink our relationship.”
The 27 member states demanded the immediate release of Protassevich and his partner Sapega.