European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's statement on Russia on Wednesday, September 16, was extremely powerful, head of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute Kristi Raik says.
Von der Leyen warned of the risks of closer ties with Vladimir Putin's Russia. She issued a tacit rebuke to efforts by leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, to try to forge a closer relationship with Russia. Her language on Russia echoed that of German chancellor Angela Merkel following the poisoning of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny with the novichok nerve agent. Von der Leyen added that the Navalny case was not a one-off incident, pointing to similar cases in Georgia, Syria and the Skripal case in Salisbury, England, U.K. business daily the FT wrote.
"This was surprising; I have not heard these kinds of positions from the president of the commission before," Raik said.
She explained that earlier, the position had been that developing economical relationships with Russia should help to move things forward in other areas, but now von der Leyen concedes the situation is different.
Diplomaatia journal chief-editor Erkki Bahovski also emphasized the strength of von der Leyen's message.
Kristi Raik noted that von der Leyen's opinions have also been affected by the discussion regarding building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, linking Russia and Germany, which has been brought into sharp relief by U.S. threats of sanctions on companies involved in the pipeline.
Many Eastern European countries see Nord Stream 2 as presenting a danger, which Russia can use as a strong lever on influence in German and European policy as a whole.
Editor: Roberta Vaino, Andrew Whyte