The pressure on Putin from the EU is mounting. Will it matter?

Vladimir Putin continues to be under pressure from both within his own borders and from other countries in the wake of the imprisonment of dissident Alexei Navalny. Ongoing protests around Russia have resulted in thousands of arrests, including some of Navalny’s family members and those who work on his anti-corruption campaign. But now the external pressure is ramping up as well. Over the weekend, the Kremlin expelled three EU officials who they claimed were “taking part” in the protests. Now, in response, Germany, Poland and Sweden have each ejected one Russian diplomat from their country as well. For his part, Putin is doing his usual schtick, blaming other nations for acting in an “unfriendly” manner while acting as if everything he’s been doing is perfectly normal. (The Hill)

Three European countries have expelled Russian diplomats in response to the expulsion of European Union (EU) officials who were part of a delegation to Moscow headed by Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative.

The Guardian reported Monday that German, Polish, and Swedish officials moved to expel one Russian diplomat from each of their respective nations in response to Moscow’s removal of three EU officials it said had taken part in anti-government demonstrations in support of Alexei Navalny, the jailed anti-Putin dissident.

Monday’s move was a “clear response to the unacceptable decision to expel a Swedish diplomat who was only performing his duties,” said Ann Linde, Sweden’s foreign minister, according to The Guardian.

One of the diplomats expelled from Russia was from Sweden and another was from Germany. Poland said that it was only acting “in solidarity” with Sweden and Germany.

Putin’s complaints about the German official “taking part in” the protests rings hollow. He’s recently made similar accusations against the United States’ embassy for posting information about the protests on social media. In reality, our embassy was gathering information about a potentially dangerous situation and informing all of the American ex-pats in the area so they could steer clear. That’s what the German embassy was doing as well. None of this is unusual, but it apparently gives Vladimir Putin a chance to flex his muscle.

President Biden has actually been taking a fairly tough tone with Putin so far. Here’s what he had to say last week about his first phone call with Putin.

“I made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different than my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions — interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens — are over,” Biden said Thursday at the State Department. “We will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interest and our people.”

None of this leads me to feel any more optimistic in terms of the possible release of Alexei Navalny or the President of Russia suddenly showing signs of reasonableness. Nothing seems to influence the former KGB agent’s attitude or behavior. He shrugs off sanctions placed on top Russian officials (including himself) and deals with protests by using an iron fist without bothering to wear a velvet glove. More than anything, he despises being seen as weak or at a disadvantage. He’s decided that he’s had enough of Navalny and I would be shocked if any of these recent developments caused him to back down and release his increasingly popular critic.

And why would he? Vladimir Putin is believed to be the richest man on the planet, amassing as much as a trillion dollars through corruption and graft. He’s used to being able to get his way because he probably believes he can buy anyone or anything that he needs. And if you annoy him too much he’ll have you poisoned.