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16th Nov 2019

Russia suspends official EU parliament visits

  • Chizhov (r) and Schulz at New Year reception in 2012 (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Russia has said MEPs are for the time being not welcome on official visits due, in part, to the European Parliament’s recent resolution on the Ukraine crisis.

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, told EUobserver on Thursday (21 January) that a Lithuanian MEP’s request to meet with Russian MPs and officials in Moscow later this month was denied due to the political situation.

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  • Landsbergis is the grandson of Lithuania's first post-Soviet head of state (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

“Evidently, it wasn’t the best moment for his travel and he should wait for a more appropriate time when the general climate of our relations will allow the European Parliament to avoid creating additional obstacles for our dialogue”, the diplomat said.

Chizhov noted the visit “was considered ill-timely” because the EP cancelled a meeting of the Russia-EU Parliamentary Co-operation Committee in Moscow in February, “to say nothing about the latest resolutions on Russia and Ukraine adopted by the European Parliament”.

“It’s not the Russian side that prevents these contacts but, alas, our friends here in Brussels".

Gabrielius Landsbergis, a Lithuanian centre-right MEP, was to go to Moscow with two aides to draft a report on EU-Russia relations for the foreign affairs committee.

He also planned to meet Russian dissidents and the lawyers of Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian airforce pilot in prison in Russia.

He says Chizhov earlier told him that he isn’t on Russia’s “stop list” - a blacklist of EU officials and MEPs imposed in retaliation against EU visa bans on Russian officials - and offered to expedite the visit.

But on 20 January one of Chizhov’s staff phoned the EP to say Landsbergis’ aides would not get visas because the trip no longer had “official” status.

Chizhov’s man also said Landsbergis - who has a diplomatic passport and doesn’t need a visa - might be stopped because border officials decide independently who to let through.

Landsbergis the same day complained in a letter to EP chief Martin Schulz that the Russian decision is “in full contradiction with their pledge for dialogue”.

“Having in mind that this trip is not a private trip, but a visit in my capacity as a rapporteur … I deem this as a sign of disrespect and hostility against the institution as a whole”, he said.

Visa quibbles

Chizhov questioned Landsbergis’ version of events.

He said the MEP was due to phone him on 21 January to iron out the issues but opted to complain to Schulz instead.

He also told this website “there are no problems with issuing visas for the persons accompanying him” despite the non-official status of the visit and despite his own remarks on its “ill-timely” nature.

But he defended Russia’s EU blacklist more generally.

"Yes, indeed, we have a list of EU officials and MEPs subject to visa ban and our partners are well aware about it”, he said.

“This list was adopted in response to the restrictive measures imposed by the EU. Unlike the European Union we do not disclose the names of people on the list because we do not have a legal basis for that. As you could guess, it includes officials who directly contributed or keep contributing to undermining Russia-EU relations".

The list was already invoked when Rebecca Harms, a German green MEP, was stopped at a Moscow airport last year.

Schulz at the time called it a “grave diplomatic incident”.

His office could not be reached for a comment on Thursday.

New low

But Elmar Brok, a German centre-right MEP who chairs the foreign affairs committee, told EUobserver the Landsbergis case represents “a new level of non-co-operation … I think it’s very harmful and I still hope the Russian side rethinks its decision and comes to a new conclusion”.

An EU diplomat said the EU foreign service issued a formal complaint over Harms.

But the contact added “it’s for the EP to first react to this [the Landsbergis problem]” before EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini steps in.

The EU parliament at its meeting in Strasbourg last week adopted two resolutions on Russia.

One called for Russia to pull its troops out of Ukraine, urged the EU to maintain sanctions, and advocated military assistance to Ukraine.

The other one criticised Russia’s sentencing of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny and his brother on fraud charges.

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