Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

British MPs paint scary picture of Putin's Russia

  • Putin: three former UK foreign ministers - Malcolm Rifkin, Jack Straw and David Miliband - backed the idea of public sanctions against Magnitsky conspirators (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

British MPs have in a discussion on the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky described Putin's Russia as a mafia state.

Coming two days after several EU leaders and top EU officials congratulated Vladimir Putin on winning elections despite the fact international monitors said they were rigged, the discussion painted a frightening picture of life in the European Union's biggest neighbour.

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Conservative deputy Dom Raab described what happened to Magnitsky in 2009 after he blew the whistle on senior tax officials who embezzled $230 million of state funds.

"He was dumped in a filthy, freezing and overcrowded cell for eight months and fed putrid meals such as porridge with insect larvae and rotten fish, if and when he was fed at all. In such squalid conditions, he suffered acutely painful bladder and pancreatic problems. Eventually, a year after his arrest, he was transferred to hospital for emergency surgery, but when he arrived he was not treated at all. Instead, he was handcuffed to a bed and beaten by riot police. Doctors found him an hour later, lying on the floor. He was dead."

Conservative MP and former foreign and defence minister Malcolm Rifkind said: "Russia is moving toward being a society that might very well be tolerating a relationship between the Russian state and organised crime that is deep and serious."

EU institutions have in the past told EUobserver they might propose a visa ban and asset freeze on the 60 Russian officials blamed for Magnitsky's death after Russia completes its internal investigation.

The probe is due to end on 24 April but has already been delayed 11 times, while Russia last year opened a posthumous criminal case against Magnitsky himself in what is widely seen as a bizarre smear campaign.

For his part, Raab called on the government to shame the Magnitsky conspirators by publicly denying them entry into the UK.

"A delaying tactic by the Russian Government must not be allowed to become a convenient delaying tactic for our government," he said. "We would be sending a clear message that those responsible for such atrocities should not be able to fly into Britain, buy up property in Knightsbridge or head off down the King's road for a bit of light Christmas shopping."

He noted that MPs in Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden have called for similar measures. The European Parliament has called for it twice.

Speaking for the government, deputy foreign minister Alistair Burt indicated the Magnitsky conspirators have already been visa-banned on the quiet and that the UK might take further steps if the US passes a bill - currently in the Senate - on human rights sanctions.

Opposition Labour party deputy Chris Bryant noted: "I did not know that our foreign policy was to wait for the United States of America to make up its mind ... before we decide what we will do."

Conservative deputy Edward Leigh was among the few who said anything nice about Putin. Noting that the election was more free than in the past, he urged MPs to recognise that "progress is being made."

Meanwhile, a number of deputies complained that the Russian ambassador to the UK had written letters urging them to shelve the Magnitsky debate.

"May I first reassure ... [you] that the Russian ambassador knows perfectly well that he will have no influence in the House of Commons? He is anxious that his bosses in Moscow see that he has done everything in his power to make their views known," Rifkin remarked.

Putin's return poses questions for EU strategy

Germany and Poland have said the EU should co-operate more closely with Russia despite calls by liberal MEPs and the Russian opposition for a confrontational approach.

Opinion

EU should target Russia's big spenders

If the EU wants to make a positive mark on Russia, it should close its banks and borders to the criminal elite robbing its people blind, writes Ben Judah.

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