Saturday

16th Feb 2019

EU: Magnitsky case is 'internal' matter for Russia

  • Barroso (l), Van Rompuy (c) and Putin: another day, another summit (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Days ahead of the latest EU-Russia summit, EU institutions have washed their hands of Sergei Magnitsky.

For the past two-or-so years, top EU officials had called for a proper investigation into the alleged murder of the whistleblower accountant, who died in jail in 2009 after exposing corruption in the Kremlin.

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When Russia in January said no one was to blame, EU diplomats switched to saying only that Moscow should stop a posthumous trial accusing him of tax fraud.

When press on Friday (31 May) at an off-the-record briefing in Brussels asked if Magnitsky will feature in the summit, an EU source said: "We are truly disappointed by the turn of legal events … We don't find the events very satisfactory, but at the end of the day, these are events for Russia's internal legal system."

Magnitsky has not been completely forgotten in the EU capital.

MEPs from time to time still call for EU sanctions in his name.

Six EU countries and the European Commission are also sharing information on a Magnitsky-related money laundering trail.

Meanwhile, top EU officials Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso plan to tell Russian leader Vladimir Putin next week they do not like his recent crackdown on foreign-funded NGOs.

But the EU source also described it as a non-event.

"We don't expect any sudden breakthrough on these questions at the summit … They will no doubt continue to explain why they don't agree with our views and this is the nature of the dialogue we have, which will no doubt continue beyond this summit," he said.

For her part, EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton will have a tricky job.

She will have to tell her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, how come EU states are free to give arms to rebels against Russia's ally, the Syrian regime.

Russia - and some Western experts - say the move will make rebels less likely to negotiate and might enflame the war.

But Ashton's predicament will be as much to explain the EU position as to justify it.

The EU source noted that member states lifted their arms embargo from 1 June but made a political promise not to deliver arms until 1 August.

Asked if they are free or not free to ship arms from 1 June, he said: "Both are correct, technically speaking."

On a more day-to-day level, the EU expects Russia to keep calling for faster visa free travel and for its energy giant, Gazprom, to get off the hook on EU energy laws.

The EU is not willing to budge on either point, however.

The two sides also aim to debate progress on a new EU-Russia treaty and to air gripes on car recycling fees, as well as "quite a number of phytosanitary issues."

The EU source noted the treaty talks are "somewhat locked" because of disagreements on trade and energy.

He said the only concrete outcome of the meeting in Yekaterinburg, near the Kazakhstan-Russia border, on Monday and Tuesday will be a deal on monitoring "precursor drugs" - chemicals used to make legal medicines, but also used by criminals to make narcotics.

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