Updated 5.50pm

The European Union should be less confrontational with Russia, MEP Alfred Sant has said, warning that the increasingly strident tone adopted by either side could further escalate tensions

“Clearly, the endpoint to such escalation could be war, for which the blame would not be attached to only one side,” Sant warned.

The MEP and former prime minister was speaking after he abstained from a European Parliament vote concerning Russia’s deployment of troops on the Ukrainian border, its imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and crackdown on his followers, as well as alleged illegal activities of Russian intelligence services inside Czechia.

His abstention drew harsh criticism from PN MEP Roberta Metsola, who described it as "shameful" and accused Sant of "parroting Russian propaganda". 

In his comments, Sant made it clear that he condemned without reservation the treatment given to Navalny, who is serving a prison sentence inside a penal colony and denied medical treatment after surviving a poisoning attack.

“As a full member of the Council of Europe, Russia is failing to honour its commitment under the Council’s charter,” Sant said.

“However, the [European Parliament] resolution repeats and amplifies accusations that are part of a long exchange game between Russia and its critics. The objectivity and transparency of these claims are doubtful,” he added.

Sant told fellow MEPs that the EU should base its relationship with Russia on mutual respect of international law, human rights standards and fundamental freedoms, with the aim of strengthening peace and security in the region.

MEP Metsola said Sant's comments came on the day Russia had sanctioned the European Parliament president and European Commission vice-president and were a "betrayal of Maltese and European values".

"It is a shocking slap in the face to the expectation of collegiately in the face of third-country aggression. It is a blow to all of those pushing for justice and respect for human rights under unimaginable pressure looking to the Parliament for support," Metsola said.

"Perhaps worst of all, it exposes the worst kind of weakness, submission and hypocrisy - traits that will be used by autocrats who know now who they can rely on in the European Parliament."

The Nationalist MEP said Labour had yet to understand what EU membership meant, and called on Prime Minister Robert Abela to clarify his position.

The nonbinding resolution, which was backed by the European Parliament’s five mainstream political groups, accused Russia of “waging a war on its own people” and said the attempt to poison Navalny fit a pattern of action adopted against opponents of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

It called for Russia to withdraw troops from its Ukrainian border, said the EU should stop importing oil and gas from the country “immediately” and called for Russia to be excluded from the SWIFT system of international payments, among other things.

The resolution was adopted by 569 votes in favour, 67 against, and 46 abstentions.

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