Thursday

21st Jan 2021

Italy lets in Russian singer, despite EU blacklist

  • Kobzon in Russia-occupied Ukraine (Photo: Andrew Butko)

The EU has agreed to prolong a blacklist of 150 Russians and Ukrainians blamed for stirring the conflict, but one of them is getting special treatment.

Member states' ambassadors took the unanimous decision in Brussels on Tuesday (2 September).

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  • Italian PM Matteo Renzi and Putin in Milan earlier this year (Photo: Palazzo Chigi)

The formal act will be adopted either by written procedure or by ministers, most likely at a general affairs council on 14 September.

The list was to expire on 15 September.

But with Russia still foul of ceasefire terms - its forces killed two Ukrainian soldiers in an ambush also on Tuesday - the measures will stay in place until March next year.

The list includes a senior Kremlin aide, Vladislav Surkov, security chiefs, such as Alexander Bortnikov and Nikolai Patrushev, politicians, such as deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin, and pro-Kremlin oligarchs, such as Arkady Rotenberg and Konstantin Malofeev.

It also includes two propagandists - TV presenter Dmitry Kiselyov and Joseph Kobzon.

But Kobzon, a 77-year old singer, known as Russia's Sinatra, has been given a waiver to go to Italy for prostate cancer treatment.

Daria Klimenko, a spokeswoman for the Italian embassy in Moscow, told the Govorit Moskva radio station he’ll be able to stay for up to 90 days inside the next six months.

The blacklist allows EU states to file exemptions “on grounds of urgent humanitarian need”.

EU sources told EUobserver that a handful of countries queried Italy’s request, but they dropped their objections after Rome supplied "additional information".

Kobzon, who has visited Russia-occupied Ukraine and sung duets with local chiefs, boasted last month that Russian leader Vladimir Putin used personal contacts with EU leaders to get him the free pass.

“Thanks to his [Putin’s] intervention they gave me a medical visa”, he told the RNS radio station.

The EU decision has caused a stir in Russia.

Liberal media voiced anger that Kremlin elites get foreign perks, while ordinary Russians bear the brunt of Western economic sanctions.

They noted that Kobzon personally stopped Yuri Kuklachev, another entertainer, from going abroad for cancer treatment on grounds it’s unpatriotic.

Oleg Kashin, an independent journalist, also said, on the Slon website, the fact that Italy is doing favours for Putin shows the EU isn’t serious on Ukraine.

“The borders of [its] seriousness and determination are marked by the medical visa”, he said.

The EU also lets blacklisted people travel for multilateral meetings.

Kobzon previously had treatment in Germany, which itself has a track record of welcoming EU pariahs, for instance, from Uzbekistan, for medical reasons.

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