Tuesday

6th Dec 2016

EU and Russia in visa talks, despite Magnitsky 'regret'

  • The EU commission visit is part of a good will programme dating back to 1997 (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU officials will in Moscow on Thursday (21 March) try to pin down details on a visa-free travel deal, despite "regret" on Russia's handling of a prominent human rights case.

The European Commission visit, including a tete-a-tete between commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, is part of a good will programme dating back to 1997.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

A big point on the agenda is whether to let Russian officials enter the EU without a visa, while relaxing visa rules for Russian businessmen, journalists and students.

"There is now a majority of member states who are in favour of including service passport holders [officials] … If everything goes well, it [a deal] might take place this summer," a commission official told EUobserver ahead of the trip.

The progress on visas comes despite EU criticism of Putin's behaviour in the past 18 months - on rigged elections, on his crackdown on NGOs and dissidents and on lack of respect for the rule of law.

In the latest episode, Russian authorities this week closed an investigation into the death in 2009 of anti-corruption activist Sergei Magnitsky, saying there was no crime.

They did it despite evidence he was put in prison, starved of medication and finally beaten to death because he exposed tax fraud by Russian officials.

For its part, the EU foreign service on Wednesday noted that he suffered "neglect and torture."

But it overlooked its previous threats to take punitive measures, saying only that Russia's decision to end the probe is "regrettable."

The EU visa-free plan stands in stark contrast with the US, which has imposed a visa ban on Magnitsky-linked Russian officials.

It also flies in the face of European Parliament appeals.

"Relaxing visa policy risks undermining the EU's approach to human rights in Russia unless it goes together with a concerted effort to … ban EU entry to those officials involved in Magnitsky’s death," Kristiina Ojuland, a Liberal MEP from Estonia, said on Wednesday.

Hannes Swoboda, an Austrian MEP who chairs the Socialist group, called the Magnitsky probe decision a "provocation."

Foreign ministers from large EU countries see things differently, however.

Poland's Radek Sikorski told the Polish parliament on Wednesday that all Russians should get EU visa-free travel, so long as Moldovans, Georgians and Ukrainians get it too.

Germany's Guido Westerwelle told press in Berlin the same day: "Some of their [Russia's] decisions I cannot comprehend. But we have to keep up discussions with Russia in a spirit of mutual respect. They are our strategic partners."

He added: "If the visa liberalisation for service passports happens, it would be a nice, welcomed progress. It is a very important topic to them. Putin brings it up all the time, so it is important for us too."

Commission won't call Castro a dictator

The EU executive says that a statement decribing the former Cuban leader as a "hero for many" is balanced and suggests that the use of the word dictator by a commissioner doesn't reflect its position.

News in Brief

  1. Belarus and Latvia to sign defence pact
  2. EU commission to help oversee foreign gas deals
  3. Poland challenges EU decision on Russian gas
  4. Idea of road transport agency gains momentum among MEPs
  5. EU dismisses euro crisis risk after Italian referendum
  6. Italy result poses no risk to the EU, Sapin says
  7. EU asked to clarify links to Iran executions
  8. Italian economy minister tipped as caretaker PM

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEJC President Breathes Sigh of Relief Over Result of Austrian Presidential Election
  2. CESICESI Congress Focuses on Future of Work, Public Services and Digitalisation
  3. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAustrian Association for Betting and Gambling Joins EGBA
  4. ACCAWomen of Europe Awards: Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  5. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  6. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  7. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  8. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  9. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children
  10. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Transport and Mobility in Rome
  11. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  12. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)