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Russia says it could sever ties with the EU if it continues with sanctions over the jailing of Alexei Navalny. The Kremlin later rolled back its stance.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Russia was prepared to break off relations with the European Union if it continued with planned sanctions.
Lavrov was asked: "Are we heading towards a break with the EU?" in a snippet of an interview by the Solovyov-life program published on its Telegram channel and shared by the Foreign Ministry.
He responded that Russia was ready to do so in the event that sanctions are imposed in areas that create risks for Russia's economy.
"We proceed from the fact that we're ready [for that]. In the event that we again see sanctions imposed in some sectors that create risks for our economy, including in the most sensitive spheres," Lavrov said.
"We don't want to isolate ourselves from global life, but we have to be ready for that. If you want peace then prepare for war," he said.
The full interview is due to be released later on Friday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later told reporters that Lavrov's comments had been taken out of context, saying that Russia wanted to develop relations with Brussels, but that it must be prepared for the worst.
He blamed mass media for publishing a "sensational headline" without context, despite the Foreign Ministry publishing the excerpt from the interview earlier without context on the ministry's website.
When asked if breaking off relations with the EU was an option in the future, he responded that Russia must "of course" be prepared to take such steps if it was hit with "extremely destructive" moves that damaged its infrastructure.
Peskov said Moscow needed to be ready to replace any of its vital infrastructure if it is deprived of necessary elements.
In a separate interview published in the Izvestia newspaper earlier on Friday, Russian permanent representative to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said Russia-EU talks would continue and that Borrell's Moscow trip was a positive sign of a willingness to engage.
A spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry said Lavrov's comments were "disconcerting and incomprehensible."
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas "has clearly outlined our points of discontent with Russia," Andrea Sasse said at a regular government press conference. "But he also said that we're interested in cooperation with Russia. In this respect, these statements from Foreign Minister Lavrov are truly disconcerting."
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert added: "I can only underline that."
Foreign policy expert Gernot Erler, formerly a high-ranking official in Germany's Foreign Ministry, told DW that Lavrov's statement "was apparently meant as a threatening gesture."
Moscow was hoping to avert new sanctions as EU foreign ministers are set to meet in late February, Erler said.
The Russia expert said that the ministers would "hopefully try to deescalate amid this escalation."
At the same time, EU lawmaker Michael Gahler dismissed Lavrov's threat as nothing more than "saber-rattling that will not impress anyone."
"I think Russia would be shooting itself in the foot if it were to unilaterally break off relations with the EU. It would certainly not be in Russia's interest,” Gahler told DW.
The Kremlin's comments came after the EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said on Tuesday that he believed that Russia wanted to break away from Europe and divide the West.
"The Russian government is going down a worrisome authoritarian route," said Borrell. "There seems to be almost no room for the development of democratic alternatives ... they are merciless in stifling any such attempts," he told the European Parliament. He said the Kremlin saw democracy as an "existential threat."
Borrell's remarks, backed up by European Council President Charles Michel, point towards the EU hardening its stance towards Moscow after years of seeking better ties.
The EU has hinted at imposing new sanctions against Moscow over the detention of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and a crackdown on protesters in Russia.
According to some reports, the EU is planning to impose travel bans and asset freezes on allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, after France and Germany gave the go-ahead.
aw,fa/rs (Interfax, Reuters)