Monday

26th Aug 2019

Nordic states discuss targeted Russia sanctions

  • Lokke Rasmussen speaking at the Danish parliament, the Folketinget (Photo: Venstre)

Momentum is building in Denmark and Sweden for the adoption of Magnitsky Acts - a form of sanctions hated by the Kremlin.

The movement was spurred by Russia's chemical attack on the UK, but arose from broader tensions, with talk of forming a Nordic-Baltic bloc to promote EU-level action.

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  • Aastrup Jensen tabled the hearing after the Russian attack in the UK (Photo: Michael Aastrup Jensen)

Danish MPs are to hold a first hearing on the issue in May after the ruling Liberal Party asked them to this week.

One outcome of the hearing could be "a direct proposal for a bill" on a Danish Magnitsky Act, Michael Aastrup Jensen, the party's foreign affairs spokesman, told EUobserver.

"There's a broad political consensus that something needs to be done," he said.

In Sweden, almost half of MPs would already back a Magnitsky Act, according to Bill Browder, a British activist campaigning for the sanctions.

Magnitsky Acts, so called after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian activist who died in police custody, enable countries to impose asset freezes and visa bans on foreign nationals on human rights grounds.

They are already in force in the Baltic countries, Canada, and the US, which have used them, for the most part, to go after the 50 or so Russians involved in Magnitsky's death eight years ago.

The risk for Russian leader Vladimir Putin is that member states, either at national or EU level, would also use them to confiscate his cronies' offshore wealth, however.

"Putin hates Magnitsky Acts more than anything else we [the West] have done, so they must be working," Browder told EUobserver.

The Danish hearing was spurred by Russia's use of a nerve toxin to try to kill a former spy in England earlier this month, but the idea of a Danish Magnitsky Act was already in the air, the Liberal Party's Aastrup Jensen said.

"I had followed the Magnitsky story for several years … but when I saw the attack in Great Britain, I knew something had to be done to send a strong message to Russia," he said.

Comparing Magnitsky-type sanctions to the EU's existing economic sanctions on Russia, he added: "Why just have sanctions that affect all Russian citizens, who have nothing to do with the regime, instead of targeted sanctions against those people who are really responsible?".

The Liberal Party would need the backing of the Danish People's and Social Democratic parties to get a Magnitsky bill through.

But both of these have said they would back any kind of measures proposed by the UK in light of events.

"If they asked us to take measures, we would look favourably at that, and Magnitsky legislation might be relevant in that context," Nick Haekkerup, an MP from the opposition Social Democratic Party told EUobserver.

Soren Espersen, from the Danish People's Party, earlier told press: "In this situation, I think the British must indicate what they want in terms of support, and we have to follow it".

British prime minister Theresa May did not propose new Russia sanctions at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday.

But Browder, and Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius, who visited London last week, said part of the British response will be the adoption of a fully fledged UK Magnitsky Act.

"They're going to do it … the British parliament was very determined on this," Linkevicius told EUobserver.

Like-minded states

Decisions on new EU-level sanctions on Russia, whether of the Magnitsky type or other kinds, are not expected before June.

But like-minded EU states, including France and Germany and several central European countries, said on Friday they would adopt new measures at a national level earlier than that.

Some of them plan to expel Russian diplomats as early as Monday.

Estonia took direct action, adding the names of 49 Russians to its national Magnitsky blacklist on Friday.

Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, who hails from the Liberal Party, also said on Friday he would give "very serious consideration over the next few days to adopting unilateral measures".

The Social Democrats were equally happy to follow Britain's lead.

Denmark would be better off taking any new measures at EU level "so that we don't stand alone in our relations with Russia", the party's Haekkerup said.

But if the UK asked allies for Magnitsky-type sanctions and the EU28 did not do it, he said, then "we [Denmark] would be in a group of like-minded countries that would support the British wishes".

Danish interest in Magnitsky flared up amid revelations, last year, that the country's top lender, Danske Bank, had laundered money for Russian clients linked to Magnitsky's killing.

Nordic bloc

Commenting on the situation in Sweden, Browder, who spoke at the Swedish parliament on Wednesday, said the Liberal Party, the Moderates, the CDU and the Centre parties, which hold about 40 percent of seats, already backed him.

Aastrup Jensen, from the Danish Liberal Party, said that "almost all the [Swedish] opposition parties are behind this idea" and that the opposition parties were polling well ahead of Swedish elections in September.

"We could have some kind of cooperation between the Nordic and Baltic states" on imposing Magnitsky-type sanctions at EU level, he said.

EU summit takes hard look at Russia

EU leaders will discuss Russian security threats in the wake of the UK attack, but will not adopt new sanctions at Thursday's summit.

Russia warns Denmark on gas pipeline

Russia said its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline might bypass Danish waters, after a new law that increased uncertainty on permits.

Estonia joins US in passing Magnitsky law

Estonia has voted to ban entry to foreigners deemed guilty of human rights abuses in a law targeting Russia and inspired by the Magnitsky case.

EU states expel over 30 Russian diplomats

France, Germany, Poland, and the US have led the largest-ever expulsion of Russian spies and diplomats in reaction to the UK chemical attack.

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