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EU chief sparks controversy by congratulating Putin on re-election

Luke James
·Brussels correspondent
Jean-Claude Juncker and Vladimir Putin at a summit in Moscow last year (Getty)
Jean-Claude Juncker and Vladimir Putin at a summit in Moscow last year (Getty)

EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker is under fire for congratulating Vladimir Putin on his re-election as Russian President amid the diplomatic crisis over the Salisbury spy poisoning.

As Britain prepares to expel 23 Russian diplomats, the European Commission president has published a letter in which he wishes Putin “every success” in his fourth term.

Mr Juncker adds that he’s seeking “positive relations” between the EU and Russia and says: “Our common objective should be to re-establish a cooperative pan-European security order.”

The letter comes just a day after the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council said it was taking the possibility of Russian responsibility for the nerve agent attack in Britain “extremely seriously”.

Juncker’s message has triggered a sharp backlash from British politicians on either side of the Brexit debate.

Ashley Fox, leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, branded it “disgraceful”.

He said: “To congratulate Vladimir Putin on his election victory without referring to the clear ballot rigging that took place is bad enough.

MEP Ashley Fox speaks at the Conservative Party conference (Getty)
MEP Ashley Fox speaks at the Conservative Party conference (Getty)

“But his failure to mention Russian’s responsibility for a military nerve agent attack on innocent people in my constituency is nauseating.

“The European Commission President is appeasing a man who poses a clear threat to western security.”

Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who supported Remain, called it “shameful.”

MORE: Boris Johnson says Putin denial over spy poisoning ‘fooling nobody’

A spokesman for Theresa May highlighted a report by official observers which said Russia’s election did not represent a “real choice.”

Video footage published yesterday also appeared to show vote rigging.

The European Commission’s spokesman was asked by journalists today why Mr Juncker did not raise questions in the letter over whether Russia’s elections were free and fair.

The spokesman also could not explain precisely what Mr Juncker meant by a “security order” with Russia.

“One of the things that I learnt in this job for the last three and a half years now is never to interpret the president,” he said. “A new security order is a new security order.”

French President Emmanuel Macron also congratulated President Putin on his re-election yesterday, but did raise the Salisbury incident.

Britain isn’t the only member state Juncker risks upsetting with his letter.

The governments of Germany and Denmark have both had their computer systems have been hacked by Russia recently.