With the Kremlin threatening Ukraine and the health of Russia’s main opposition leader deteriorating, some European countries want to follow the example of the Biden administration and take a tougher stance on Moscow.

But the EU’s major powers, France and Germany, want their own, more diplomatic, relationship with Russia, independent of the United States.

In recent days, the Czech Republic and Poland have expelled Russian diplomats and accused the Kremlin of malicious activity in their countries. Some EU members, such as the three Baltic states, want to send a stronger signal to Russia and threaten sanctions if the Kremlin deploys the tens of thousands of troops it has stationed on Ukraine’s borders and Crimea against its neighbour.

The UK, which recently left the EU, and some wealthier but smaller EU members, including Denmark and the Netherlands, have been taking a harder line on Moscow for several years, but have not been able to change the minds of the larger EU members.

The expulsion of the Czech and Polish diplomats last week followed new sanctions by the Biden administration against Russia for election interference, cyber attacks and other malicious activities. President Biden has taken a clear tone towards Russia since taking office, saying he considers it a presidential country.

Vladimir Putin

a killer.

The previous administration also retaliated against Russia, but the allies were neglected by the president then.

Donald Trump

Praise Mr. Putin.

Russia denies any wrongdoing and says the US is trying to play European allies against Moscow. The Russian Foreign Ministry said it had seen a US fingerprint on the Czech decision.

European Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said Monday that he hoped Russia would withdraw troops it has stockpiled near Ukraine.

Photo:

François Villestarts/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

EU foreign ministers met by video conference on Monday to discuss Russia’s military actions,

Joseph Borrell,

said they were very concerned. He said Russia has about 150,000 troops near Ukraine and in Crimea, and called on Russia to reduce and defuse tensions. His office later said the exact number was more than 100,000.

Hopefully this deployment will stop and be withdrawn, he told reporters after the meeting.

Borrell also expressed concern about the health of a prominent critic of the Kremlin.

Alexei Navalny,

who has been on hunger strike for nearly three weeks.

Borrell said the EU is not preparing new sanctions against Russia. Things can change, he said, but the situation as I explain it.

The EU’s heavyweights, France and Germany, preferred to try to persuade Putin to change course. the French president

Emmanuel Macron

put diplomacy at the forefront, saying that Europe should seek cooperation with Russia on arms control, as well as in global conflicts and other crises. In an interview with CBS News on Sunday, Macron said we need an open and honest dialogue with Russia, while hinting that he is open to new sanctions.

Germany would support an EU decision to tighten existing restrictions against Russia in the event of a Kremlin escalation in Ukraine, a senior German government official said.

Protests were held in front of the Russian embassy in Prague on Sunday over a 2014 bombing allegedly organized by Russian security forces in the Czech Republic.

Photo:

David W. Cerny/Reuters

However, the government is unlikely to abandon its support for the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would double direct Russian gas exports to Germany, several officials said. Sir, I’m sorry. Biden opposes a pipeline that bypasses Ukraine and increases Russia’s influence in the European energy market, and his administration is considering whether or not to approve the pipeline.

The French and German approach is being challenged by Russian movements.

The Kremlin’s massive deployment of tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s borders and in Crimea has stoked fears of a repeat of the 2014 raids. Allies of opposition leader Navalny meanwhile say he is in critical condition. On Monday, Russia said it had transferred Mr Navalny to a prison hospital.

On Saturday, the Czech Prime Minister

Andrei Babis

announced that his country was expelling 18 Russian diplomats from the country after concluding that Russian military intelligence was likely involved in a series of explosions that blew up an ammunition storage facility in a Czech village in 2014.

There are reasonable suspicions that Russian secret agents of the GRU service were involved, the prime minister wrote on Twitter. A spokesman did not respond to requests for further comment.

On Sunday, Moscow retaliated by expelling 20 Czech diplomats from Russia. We will take retaliatory measures that will make the perpetrators of this provocation aware of their full responsibility for destroying the basis of normal relations between our countries, the Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.

For years, Czech counterintelligence agencies have complained about the size of the Russian embassy, which at one point housed more than 140 diplomats, and the risk that Moscow would use the capital, Prague, as a base of operations for secret diplomatic agents.

Last week, several Central European countries expelled Russian diplomats from the country. Poland expelled three Russian diplomats from its embassy in Warsaw on Friday. They had ties to Russian intelligence.

Stanislav Zarin,

a spokesman for the Polish Security Coordination Agency. Their continued presence in Poland would pose a serious threat to the country’s interests.

There were no details in his office.

Before last week’s expulsion, Russia had twice as many diplomats in Prague and Warsaw as Poland or the Czech Republic had in Moscow.

Slawomir Debski,

Director of the Polish Institute of International Relations, a Warsaw-based think tank close to the Polish government.

Most of them are just spies, he said of the Russian diplomats. It’s time to say goodbye.

-Boyan Panczewski in Berlin and Ann M. Simmons in Moscow contributed to this article.

Email James Marson at [email protected] and Drew Hinshaw at [email protected]

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