And addressing Vladimir Putin as “Excellency”, Eurocrat Jean-Claude Juncker vowed to “always be a partner” in a joint push by the EU and Russia to “re-establish a pan-European security order”.
But the gushing missive – which came just one day after the EU offered Britain “unqualified support” over the Salisbury spy poisoning – failed to mention the suspected Russian nerve agent attack.
It was condemned as “shameful” and “disgraceful” by senior Tories given that the Russian President is suspected of ordering the nerve agent attack which has left former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia fighting for their lives.
And the European Commission President appeared isolated in Brussels last night as other senior EU figures distanced themselves from his gesture.
Jean Claude-Juncker was slammed over Putin letter
Juncker’s ‘nauseating’ letter congratulating Putin was criticised widely
Our common objective should be to re-establish a pan-European security order. I hope that you will use your fourth term in office to pursue this goal. I will always be a partner in this endeavour.
Mr Juncker’s message followed President Putin’s disputed election victory on Sunday. Official polls showed he won 76% of the vote but election observers have complained about a lack of genuine choice and allegations of ballot rigging has been made.
In his letter, Mr Juncker wrote: “I wish to convey my congratulations on your re-election as President of the Russian Federation.
“I have always argued that positive relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation are crucial to the security of our continent.
“Our common objective should be to re-establish a pan-European security order. I hope that you will use your fourth term in office to pursue this goal. I will always be a partner in this endeavour.
“I wish you every success in carrying out your high responsibilities.”
Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, in a one-word response on Twitter, described Mr Juncker’s letter as “shameful”.
And Ashley Fox, leader of the Tory MEPs, said: “This is a disgraceful letter from Jean-Claude Juncker.
“To congratulate Vladimir Putin on his election victory without referring to the clear ballot rigging that took place is bad enough. 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.”
Congratulations on your re-election, President #Putin. I have always argued that positive relations between the #EU and #Russia are crucial to the #security of our continent. Our objective should be to re-establish a cooperative pan-European security order. pic.twitter.com/PiEGg56DBN
— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) March 20, 2018
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal ALDE group of MEPs and the European Parliament’s representative in the Brexit negotiations, took the unusual step of distancing himself from Mr Juncker.
“This is no time for congratulations,” he wrote.
“We will always need dialogue with Russia, but closer ties must be conditional on respect for the rules-based international order and fundamental values.”
EU Council President Donald Tusk, who has been critical of President Putin, was understood to be unlikely to send a congratulatory letter to the President Putin.
“President Tusk has not sent such a letter, I would not be surprised if he would not send one at all,” said an EU source.
Guy Verhofstadt distanced himself from Juncker
Downing Street officials declined to comment on the contents of Mr Juncker’s letter.
“I think the Prime Minister’s position has been set out very clearly,” Theresa May’s spokesman said.
He added: “What I would point to is the strong response which you have seen from across the EU, from leaders in condemning what happened in Salisbury and standing with the UK.”
The spokesman said the Prime Minister was expecting to discuss the Salisbury poisoning with European leaders at a EU Council in Brussels tomorrow.[Thursday]
Asked about how the state of her relationship with the European Commission President, the spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has a good working relationship with Jean-Claude Juncker. They have worked closely together on the negotiations about Britain leaving the EU.”
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Mrs May has declined to congratulate President Putin on the election result. Her aides have said the Government is awaiting a report from independent election observers into the conduct of the Russian poll.
Earlier this week, an initial report from observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said of the presidential poll: “Restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition.”
Until Mr Juncker’s letter was published yesterday, Government officials had welcomed EU support in the diplomatic clash with Russia.
A statement from the EU condemned the Salisbury attack as “reckless and illegal” while taking British accusations that Russia was responsible “extremely seriously”.