Tuesday

14th Jul 2020

Estonia mulls Schengen ban on Russian officials

  • Named Russian officials would be turned back at Schengen borders if Estonia goes ahead (Photo: Khairil Zhafri)

Estonia may unilaterally ban Russian officials deemed guilty of human rights abuses from entering the EU’s Schengen travel zone after a parliament vote.

Seventy two out of 101 MPs on Tuesday (15 March) voted Yes to a statement saying: “The Riigikogu [Estonian parliament] calls for officials of the Russian Federation who are responsible for the capture, detention and illegal trial of Nadiya Savchenko to be banned from entering the European Union.”

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  • Riigikogu: Motion tabled by senior MP in ruling party and endorsed by whopping majority on Tuesday (Photo: Troy David Johnston)

Savchenko is a Ukrainian fighter pilot abducted two years ago by Russia-linked forces in Ukraine and taken to Russia, according to the EU.

Russia says she crossed the border herself to plot attacks. She was put on trial and faces 25 years in prison.

The EU, whose diplomats attended court hearings, has said she was “denied the core right to fair proceedings.”

Her defiant courtroom statements and on-off hunger strikes have made her a hero in Ukraine.

The Riigikogu motion is not binding on the Estonian government.

Asked by EUobserver on Tuesday how the government will proceed, an Estonian foreign ministry spokesperson said the motion contains “very substantial proposals on next steps” and “needs to be discussed first.”

Eerik-Niiles Kross, an MP from Estonia’s ruling Reform Party and the country’s former intelligence chief, told EUobserver that “there’s a good chance” Estonia will ban the Russian officials by using Schengen.

EU-level visa bans are enacted by consensus in the EU Council in Brussels.

But, under Schengen rules, if one Schengen member state red-flags a name in the Schengen Information System all the other members are obliged to deny them entry.

"The beauty of this is that once Estonia puts them on a blacklist it's in force through Schengen,” Kross said.

The Schengen area includes 22 EU states and Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.

Political pressure

Kross said the 72-MP majority and the fact the statement was tabled by a senior politician made it hard to ignore.

The motion was initiated by Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, the deputy chair of the Reform Party and a former foreign minister.

Kross said: “We from parliament will soon ask the government if they have done so [introduced the Schengen ban] and if needed send them a list [of Russian names].”

He said Estonia’s list, if it goes forward, would overlap with an informal European Parliament list drafted by Lithuanian liberal MEP Petras Austrevicius.

The Austrevicius list names Russian leader Vladimir Putin and 28 other people, most of whom are judges and prosecutors. Kross said Estonia is “unlikely” to red-flag Putin.

Swiss precedent

Switzerland, for one, in 2010 used the Schengen system to ban 188 Libyan officials from entering all Schengen states.

It did so in a dispute over Hannibal Gaddafi, the son of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, whom it accused of beating servants in a Swiss hotel.

Libya in return banned entry to all Schengen state nationals. Italy at the time criticised Switzerland for political abuse of Schengen protocols.

The EU foreign service on Tuesday declined to comment on the potential diplomatic fallout if Estonia goes ahead.

Its spokesperson said the EU has published six statements urging Russia to free Savchenko.

’Humiliation’

The EU already has a visa ban on 146 Russians and Ukrainians on grounds they took part in “threatening of the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine”.

But it has ignored MEPs and national MPs’ calls to list Russian officials on human rights grounds, notably in the case of killed Russian anti-corruption activist Sergei Magnitsky.

Speaking in the Riigikogu ahead of Tuesday’s vote Kross said the Savchenko case is a violation of the laws of war set out in the Geneva Conventions, to which Russia is a signatory.

“Good and evil exist and in Nadiya Savchenko’s case we have to be against evil,” he said. “Being silent would mean accepting humiliation by Moscow.”

EU to extend sanctions on Putin 'cronies'

EU states will, next week, extend the life of blacklists of Russians and Ukrainians deemed responsible for the Ukraine conflict or for plundering Ukraine’s treasury.

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