Spain’s Defence Minister Comes to Defence of EU Chief “Diplomat” Josep Borrell in War of Words With Russia That Borrell Initiated

“When Russia insults the high representative of the European Union, it is insulting all Europeans.”  

A couple of weeks ago, as reported here, the co-founder and honorary president of El País, José Luis Cebrián, penned an op-ed in the newspaper titled “Defending Ukraine to the Death… of Ukrainians” in which he warned about the potentially dire consequences of the war in Ukraine for Europe’s future. As I noted in my post on that piece, Cebrián raised concerns about the real objectives of the war, the way it is being waged and the way it is subordinating the objectives of the EU project to those of the NATO military alliance.

In conclusion, Cebrián wrote:

This is not a war between Russia and Ukraine, but a proxy war between NATO and Russia. Neither of them can be absolute losers if we aspire to a lasting peace in Europe and want to prevent the conflict from spiralling into a third world war. But the voices in favour of a ceasefire do not seem to have much effect on the rulers of democratic Europe, ours included, ready as they are to defend Ukraine until the death of the last Ukrainian.

“Spawn of Satan”

In other words, even the rare voices of disquiet within European policy circles that are calling for a change of direction on the war are getting short shrift from most of the region’s rulers. Which brings us nicely to one of this week’s episodes of farcical European leadership. On Tuesday, Cadena Ser, a Spanish radio broadcaster belonging to Grupo Prisa, which also happens to be the parent group of El País, ran a story with the following bizarre headline:

Robles Lashes Out at Russia for Calling Josep Borrell a “Spawn of Satan”: “We cannot accept Threats”

Margarita Robles is Spain’s acting minister of defence and on Tuesday she gave a speech at the headquarters of SATCEN, the EU satellite coordination centre, on the outskirts of Madrid. Also in attendance was Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy and a former cabinet colleague of Robles’ in the Pedro Sánchez government.

During that speech Robles brought up some of the recent incendiary comments made by Vladimir Solovyov, a prime-time Russian television presenter and pro-Putin propagandist, about Borrell. On his daily TV show Solovyov had called Borrell a litany of names including “idiot”, “enemy of the Slavs,” “enemy of the Russian people”, “little demon” and “spawn of Satan.” He also noted that Borrell, while “supposedly holding the position of quasi foreign minister of the European Union, behaves like a minister of war.” That one is true.

Solovyov also launched a verbal onslaught against Borrell’s native country of Spain, which he described as the “world’s evil” for its centuries of colonising other countries. And this, I imagine, was probably the final straw for Robles, who responded with these words:

“We cannot accept threats or insults from Russia. When Russia insults the high representative of the European Union, it is insulting all Europeans. Threats are not acceptable. Russia has to know that the European Union will continue to support Ukraine, because supporting Ukraine is supporting peace, freedom and security.”

As Cebrián said, people like Robles are willing to defend Ukraine “until the last Ukrainian.” They are also perfectly happy to use even the most insidious examples of Orwellian doublespeak, such as “war is peace”, to justify their ends.

In return for her unyielding support for Ukraine, Robles was awarded the “distinction of honour” by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence of Ukraine on Monday. The acting Minister of Defence received the medal from the Ukrainian ambassador to Spain, Serhii Pohoreltsev. Zelensky’s government also gave honours to Spain’s Secretary General of Defence Policy, Admiral Juan Francisco Fernández Núñez, and the Director General of Defence Policy, Lieutenant General Fernando López del Pozo.

Robles’ defence of Borrell is absurd for at least three reasons:

  1. Robles, a senior albeit acting minister of the Spanish government, was not responding to comments made by a senior official of the Russian government, but rather a Russian propagandist working for Russian state television. In other words, it wasn’t “Russia” insulting Borrell; it was a Russian TV presenter. By directly responding to Solovyov’s insults, Robles gave greater prominence to those insults while bringing the ministry she represents down to Solovyov’s level.
  2. Robles’ assertion that when Russia insults Borrell, Europe’s gaffe-prone chief diplomat, it is insulting all Europeans is farcical. For a start, there are tens of millions of Europeans from non-member countries who are not EU citizens and whom Borrell does not represent in any shape or form. They include millions of Russian citizens living in Western Russia. It is also arguable whether Borrell even represents EU citizens given nobody ever voted for him. In fact, Robles’ assertion is reminiscent of former US NIAID Director Anthony Fauci’s statement that “attacks on me, quite frankly, are attacks on science”.
  3. It wasn’t Solovyov, or any Russian for that matter, that began this latest war of words; it was Borrell himself. Channelling his inner John McCain, he said in an interview with El País on August 19 that “the Russian economy is too small compared to the real geopolitical players.” Asked about EU relations with China, Borrell stressed that the Asian giant is not Russia: “China is a real geopolitical player, while Russia is an economic dwarf, it’s like a gas station whose owner has an atomic bomb.”

Describing Russia as an economic dwarf is not just offensive, it is plain wrong. Russia’s autarchik economy has weathered 18 months of all-out war against it from both the US, the world’s [declining] economic superpower, and the EU, the world’s largest trade bloc. It is one of the world’s biggest exporters not only of energy but all sorts of vital commodities. It also just overtook Germany to become the fifth wealthiest economy in the world and the largest in Europe on PPP (purchasing power parity) terms, and is on target to grow at a rate of around 2.5% this year, while many EU countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, are sliding into recession.

What’s more, despite 11 rounds of sanctions against Russia, Europe’s economy is still heavily dependent on the natural gas coming out of Russia’s “gas station” — only now it’s in liquefied form, which is a lot more expensive and more difficult to transport. According to a new report by Global Witness, an environmental watchdog organisation, EU member states are now buying 40% more Russian LNG, which is currently exempt from EU sanctions, than it did in 2021. Their purchases in the first seven months of this year are actually slightly higher than they were during the same period of last year.

In fact, three EU countries were among the top five biggest clients of Russian LNG in the first seven months of this year: Spain, in second place after China, Belgium in third and France in fifth (after Japan). These three countries have become busy destinations for LNG carriers, whose supplies are unloaded onto sophisticated terminals and warmed backed into gaseous form and sent to power plants in countries like the Netherlands, Greece, Portugal, Finland, Italy and Sweden.

“Envy and Impotence”

Borrell’s provocative comments from the El País interview are not mentioned in any of the three Spanish articles I have read on Robles’ speech, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they would have added some much-needed context to the diplomatic spat. But the comments were certainly picked up by senior Russian officials.

Hours after the El País interview aired, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described Borrell’s statements as the product of “envy and impotence”, adding that “the EU is bankrupt” and ruined itself when it stopped buying quality [Russian] fuel at an affordable price. In response to the “atomic bomb” comment, Zakharova said that only one EU country has nuclear weapons, while the others have not been able to produce them. “There is nothing to be proud of, which is why they are so angry. So everything Borrell said is the result of envy and helplessness,” concluded Maria Zakharova.

For his part, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the EU’s chief diplomat’s racist worldview is what prevents him and other Western leaders from accepting the reality of a nascent multipolar world. “Today’s West is steered by people like Josep Borrell who divide the world into a blooming ‘garden’ and ‘the jungle,’ where the latter clearly applies to most of humanity.” said Lavrov. “I dare say, this racist worldview certainly prevents them from accepting the onset of multipolarity.”

This is not Lavrov’s first clash with Borrell. That came in early February 2021, a full year before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when the EU’s chief diplomat visited Moscow with the ostensible goal of getting EU-Russia relations back on track after years of ratcheting tensions. It was Borrell’s first (and quote possibly last) visit to the Kremlin and the first of any EU diplomat since 2017. As I reported for NC at the time, it was a diplomatic disaster:

Borrell’s big mistake was to go all the way to Moscow to lambaste the Putin government for its rough treatment of Navalny, which he could have done from the comfort of his own office in Brussels. That rough treatment includes allegedly trying to poison Navalny with a Novichok-type nerve agent. That was in August [2020]. After apparently taking ill on an internal flight in Russia, Navalny was taken to Germany, where he spent five months recovering. On January 17 [2021], he returned to Russia and was duly arrested for violating parole from a 2014 sentence for embezzlement. Last week, the court sentenced him to two years and eight months in a prison colony.

Borrell called for Navalny’s release and an investigation into his poisoning, neither of which went down well with his hosts. Nor did his allusions to the rule of law, international human rights and respect for the sovereignty of other nations.

The Russian Federation’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded by lashing Brussels for its own failings. He called the EU “unreliable” and accused Germany and France of arrogance in their dealings with Russia. Then, he delivered the coup de grace. He accused Brussels of double standards over Spain’s imprisonment of Catalan separatists. And Borrell’s glass house began to shatter…

After the press conference Russia expelled three EU diplomats, from Germany, Poland and Sweden, for allegedly participating in protests against Navalni’s imprisonment. Germany, Poland and Sweden responded in kind, by expelling three Russian diplomats from their territory. Rather than getting EU-Moscow relations back on track, Borrell’s visit drove them to a new low, which will no doubt delight hawks in Washington and NATO.

On his return to Brussels, Borrell wrote on his EU blog that his visit had confirmed that “Europe and Russia are drifting apart.” German broadcaster Deutsche Welle said his visit was “perhaps the biggest shambles” in the EU’s short-lived history of international diplomacy. That, of course, was before Borrell’s infamous speech at the European Diplomatic Academy last October in which he compared Europe to a garden and “most of the rest of the world” to a dark, invading jungle.

Borrell may have apologised for making that statement but the damage had already been done. And that damage was worldwide. With Borrell in charge of EU diplomacy, not only is the EU doing many things badly on the international stage, mainly due to its subordination to the interests of NATO (and by extension, the US); it is also saying things badly. And in the world of foreign relations that matters a lot, especially if Europe wants to maintain any semblance of soft power in the gradually emerging multipolar world.


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  1. DJG, Reality Czar

    Nick Corbishley: A physics atomic nit to pick. Liquefied natural gas is warmed to get it out of the ship and into the pipeline. Liquefying the gas “freezes” it and makes it take less room, easier for shipping.

    As to Borrell, and as to this exchange that you report in such detail, Borrell is a mystery to me. However, I think that Naked Capitalism commenters have learned that such politicians as Borrell are not mysteries and are doing what they are paid to do and paid to say.

    Yet here is a guy who comes from a small Catalan village, bears a Catalan name, and according to Wikipedia, had a father who made it a habit not to leave the village at all after the Spanish Civil War. When the Catalan language was banned–and which Borrell born in 1947 knows full well. Yet Borrell is a reliable and outspoken opponent of Catalan nationalism / separatism / call it what you will.

    So the garden that he touts doesn’t seem to extend to his own fellow Catalans.

    Further, as reported in this post, getting into a tussle with a television commentator has all of the dignity of U.S. politicians getting into dustups with fictional characters like Murphy Brown. It is a sign of a thin skin and of failure.

    I will also point out that Ukrainian government officials (not just talk-show hosts) have taken to insulting the pope regularly. When they aren’t trying to get Russian artists fired. Yet that is okay, because the Just may hand out Judgments.

    Compliments (doleful compliments) on your last paragraph and its summing-up: The EU is exposed as a bunch of clowns and meretricious seatwarmers. Borrell isn’t all that much different from Eva Kaili (of bribes and boy-toy fame) or the nonentity Metsola (who comes off as a neoliberal ventroloquist’s dummy), or Ursula von der Leyen, the exmplar of how to fail up by ruining things.

    1. timbers

      “So the garden that he (Borrell) touts doesn’t seem to extend to his own fellow Catalans.”

      Are you saying Borrell is a weed from the jungle?

      “..getting into a tussle with a television commentator has all of the dignity of U.S. politicians getting into dustups with fictional characters like Murphy Brown. It is a sign of a thin skin and of failure.”

      My thought, too. After all the EU is a Union comprised of nations like Germany that are just a collection of Kool-Aid stands masquerading as a nation of gardens that’s really just a bunch of weeds sprouting within a crack on a concrete walkway that gets stepped on by pedestrians passing by.

  2. ISL

    For the life of me, I can’t understand why the article only names one as a propagandist for what has been termed the most propagandized war in history.

    Unless the West dissociates itself from its propaganda (the first stage of recovery), all will not end well.

    1. BillC

      Well, Nick probably doesn’t have time to itemize perhaps 95% (99%?) of the Western mass media’s “reporters” and commentators. We’ll just have to be content with his spotlight on one or two particularly egregious examples.

      I’m beginning to wonder if Covid permanently disabled the criticial thinking skills of nearly all of those who used to have them. Oh, wait! TDS may have beaten Covid to the punch.

    2. WillD

      I noticed that, too. Calling the Russian TV presenter a propagandist is out of order, it may or may not be true, but in this instance it is irrelevant. In my view, there is far more propaganda coming from the west than from Russia – but this too is irrelevant.

      Borrell, and his supporters fail, or refuse, to see the obvious – that his insults about Russia provoked the Russian TV presenter’s insults.

      This is a symptom of a wider and generalised European refusal to acknowledge the validity of almost any statement or remark by any and all Russians – as if ALL Russians were inferior beings and not worthy of attention.

      This terrible attitude, in itself, is deeply insulting to Russia and her people!

  3. Ignacio

    It is the case that both Robles and Borrell were, once upon a time, rational people with more or less sound ideas in their brains. Bad ageing? Indeed, but not only. How is it so many are descending to such dark and deep holes? A collective thing indeed.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      It’s 2023, and the Euro went live in 1999. To me, this tells the story of Borrell. He was around when the real hard work was done and was the beneficiary of rapid change and relative good feelings. He left Spanish for EU politics in the early 00s. He likely over values his role. The Treaty of Lisbon wasn’t really earth shattering and was more about creating efficiencies in a system that was already operating. The Maastricht Treaty people were still around in some capacity. They are gone entirely.

      My gut is Borrell was always a Euro-centric doofus who was lucky. Now he’s just facing fallout he never conceived could happen.

  4. The Rev Kev

    It seems that Josep Borrell has all the diplomatic skills of Annalena Baerbock – but with more white hair and wrinkles. Ever since the war started, the guy has been sounding more like a War Minister than the EU’s head diplomat. Mind you, this was the same guy who said ‘Europe has to develop an appetite for power’ way back in 2020 but I suspect that he was talking about himself. I heard that he is retiring next year but in the meantime, he is running around demanding that EU States give the Ukraine more ammo, demanding that the EU be ready to take in 10 new members (that should be fun), insisting that €5 billion ($5.46 billion) be given to the Ukraine each and every year going forward forever, etc. The guy is a walking disaster zone as far as diplomacy is concerned but I guess these same qualities were why he was chosen by the EU’s leadership in the first place. The Russians and Chinese should really give him a medal for all that he has done to get Global Majority countries to turn their back on the EU and all its “values.” Thing is, when he does step down, I would not be surprised if he is replaced by Annalena Baerbock herself.

    1. digi_owl

      What really puzzles me is that he started in politics as a socialist during the end of Franco’s rule in Spain.

  5. lifeform

    Brexit has clearly been handled in the most disastrous and incompetent manor possible but who in the world would choose to be tied to the monumental clusterf*ck that is Brussels?

  6. lyman alpha blob

    “When Russia insults the high representative of the European Union, it is insulting all Europeans.”

    Yeah, pretty sure they were just insulting the elites. Reminds me of a time back in my salad days when my poor judgement lightened my wallet in a street altercation. I remember telling the offender if he didn’t give me back what he took, me and all of my friends behind me were going to take it back. Of course I hadn’t consulted those friends first before mouthing off, they were in no way interested in doing anything of the sort, and the offender walked away unscathed.

    I sincerely hope the Robles and Borrells of the world get to learn a similar lesson.

    Side note: If you don’t want to be referred to as the devil’s spawn, maybe don’t give your EU organization the acronym SATCEN – sure sounds like Satan Center to me.

    1. hk

      Well, then they’d know why Russians, Chinese, Iranians, Arabs, and many other nations are unhappy at the West, or do they think only the West is a collective monolith composed of programmed robots and everyone else is made up of free individuals?

  7. Piotr Berman

    “Robles’ assertion that when Russia insults Borrell, Europe’s gaffe-prone chief diplomat, it is insulting all Europeans is farcical.” [is absurd]

    I guess it Borrell represent the norm of Euro-aparatchiks, so badmouthing Borrell insults the entire milieu of Euro-aparatchiks who, among their numerous duties, carry the dignity of EU (self-named Europe, imitation of USA/America usage). So it may be fitting that Robles, an aspiring Euro-aparatchik, rises in his defense.

    Clearly, dignity is in the job description of an acting minister — she could act better, but not necessary for a temporary seat holder.


    On related topic, what is a proper meaning and proper follow-up for the phrase “not acceptable” (according to Robles, badmouthing Borrell in Russian prime time TV is not acceptable). The meaning is conveniently fluid and reminds me unacceptable behavior of an Australian cloth designer who created a line of bikinis adorned with the visage of Lakshmi, e.g. at the low-front center of the lower piece. I guess she thought it fitting and proper for a goddess related to fertility, but the faithful in India found it unacceptable. The designer apologized, stopped sales, but she was still subjected to “serious wrath”. I have seen a photo of grim Hindu faithful (all men) carrying condemnation slogans and posters of bikini-clad model with huge painted X over it. I suspect that Lakshmi, a goddess that tolerates her visage being used on all kinds of products, like ginger paste (I had a jar), had a good laugh.

  8. Val

    Anticipating Josep’s 2021 visit, the Kremlin curated a rather long video collage (iirc 15 min) of Catalan separatists getting their skulls beaten in by phalanxes of democracy-loving gardeners dressed in the latest robo-cop riot gear couture. After Borrell’s virtue signaling at the Moscow press conference, Lavrov played the video for him and Jungle Josep (hat tip Alex Christoforou) had to sit there and just take it all in, right in front of the cameras. The overall cinematic and psychological effect must have broken poor Josep’s brain even further, as a few days later Borrell was back in Brussels headquarters giving an acutely russophrenic speech, dressed head to toe in assorted deep shades of purple to affirm his loyalty and continuing utility to the controlling elements.

  9. Feral Finster

    Short of launching a nuclear strike, there is little that Russia can do that so much as mildly inconveniences the political class in the West, none of whom care in the slightest about their own citizens. The European political class, in particular, is proud of how out of touch they are, how little concern they have for ordinary citizens or their concerns.

    So the West will only continue to double down.

    1. Schopsi

      Complete and utter psychopathy is indeed in many ways a huge advantage and an effective protective shield.

      Perhaps that is why I seem to increasingly discover Videos openly praising the virtues of psychopathy on the intertubes.

      The yet obscure beginnings of an open and expicit psychopathy pride movement?

      Even if not it’s probably only a question of time.

      Psychopathy for everyone, why should the elites be the only ones with the freedom and comfort of don’t giving a flying *Family Blog* about anything or anyone?

      Not that both of those things, “elites” basically openly reveling in and celebrating their depravity and more or less common people adopting their callous attitude hadn’t been happening for a long time, but it smells like in this time of falling masks many are willing to stop with even the last, tiny bit of pretense.

  10. Sunny Tzu

    Spain is still a Francoist state with a couple of (not so) fresh layers of paint. The paint is of very sorry quality, it isn’t needed any other type for the required work (whitewashing fascism). Many can say that this happen more or less in any European country, but it is not exactly true. In Spain the parasitic elites are very well in charge since 400 years ago, and since true Spain itself started to exist (i.e., current Spain) in the 19th century, it is easy to check a very small group of families who have too much power. The same people who in 1936 decided that a group of monsters of hell were needed to make a genocide with the help (or precisely, through no help at all) of the “Western democracies”, which were ruled in deep by people with great anxiety about their Frankenstein monster, the nazi Germany, went to the jugular of the USSR once and for all. Franco, an absolute coward and cold murderer, never in his life had taken part in the very planned for the very beginning civil war if he hadn’t been 400 percent sure that the USA, UK and France were going to do nothing to help the Republic (a burgeoise one, nothing from left wing!), in fact they helped Franco, and the Frankenstein and its retarded brother, the fascist Italy, pulled out all the stops helping him.

    Robles and Borrell are servants of this people. They are both fantastically corrupt, and their national difference with their Western counterparts are their astronomical ineptitude (i.e., as visible as Northern Lights) about even bothering themselves in hiding it.

    When the Catalonian affair, Borrell openly paraded with fascists saying more or less literally that Catalonia needed bleach cleansing. He is well known in Spain, he was defenestrated as PSOE candidate far ago because he was simply untenable, possibly Pedro Sánchez owe him a lot, he was also defenestrated (current deep state wants Sànchez out) and surely Borrell’s money helped him to win the will of PSOE affiliates. Robles is far more discrere, but even more corrupt (as she is Minister of Defense). This couple of persons are both literally a joke.

    I don’t know exactly what bothered Robles, because Borrell is such an imbecile that it is very hard to bother him (he is always in bad manners), but I think the Russian said something with double understanding, a bit like when Chávez told king Juan Carlos something that the latter understood as a not veiled alusion to his role in the 1981 coup (made at his request, precisely) and said that of “¿Por qué no te callas?”.

    They are that stupid. The fact that deeply stupid people was in charge clearly reveals that smart ones simply reject the job.

  11. Synoia

    Ever since the war started, the guy has been sounding more like a War Minister than the EU’s head diplomat.

    Makes one wonder who is writing his material and directing his actions,

  12. Sausage Factory

    €450 billion to ‘rebuild’ Ukraine (so far) that’s 12 times the entire aid budget of EU. US will throw Ukrainia under the bus, EU will be left to pay for it and Europe will go broke. Hell awaits Ukraine (perhaps their only real hope is that Russia takes all of it and takes on the rebuilding along with China and maybe even BRICS) otherwise decades of poverty and misery await the 50% of the population of Ukraine that is left in the Country. Another once prosperous country destroyed by the US and its EU vassals and left as a 3rd world shithole. West never learns and thus its own self destruction is inevitable (but it will be Europe that goes first)

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