28th Jan 2020

MEPs call for 'values' in EU-Russia relations

The EU must put values such as free press and democracy at the centre of its new strategic pact with Russia, the European Parliament said in a Wednesday (25 October) statement on the killing of Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya, as Brussels and Moscow gear up to start fresh treaty talks in November.

"[Parliament] calls on the European Commission and the EU member states to take a principled and consequent stand in the negotiations on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA)...with a view to placing democracy, human rights and freedom of expression at the core of any future agreement and instituting a clear mechanism to monitor implementation," the formal resolution said.

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The statement paid tribute to Ms Politkovskaya - famous for exposing Russian abuses in Chechnya - as "a symbol of honest journalism in Russia" and "condemned in the strongest terms" the "cowardly crime" of her contract killing-style murder in Moscow on 7 October.

And it "voiced concern" over wider trends in Vladimir Putin's Russia, whose eight year rule has seen very few people brought to justice over the killings of several journalists and businessmen and whose recent NGO law reforms could see Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch driven out of the country.

"The EU should not sign up to any Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia until freedom, transparency and rule of law have been established," British liberal MEP Graham Watson stated ahead of the resolution vote.

"Freedom of speech and human rights needs to be one of the main prerequisites for renewing the EU-Russia PCA," Estonian conservative MEP Tunne Kelam said. "Russia has become one of the deadliest countries [in the world] for journalists."

Parliament takes lead

European Parliament's president Josep Borrell took the lead in criticising Mr Putin at last week's EU-Russia summit in Lahti, Finland, along with Poland, Latvia and Sweden, while western member states France, Germany, the UK and Italy focused on pragmatic energy interests instead.

The Finnish EU presidency also took great pains not to offend the Russian leader at its Lahti dinner, while the European Commission continues to focus on getting access to Russian gas and oil for EU firms and building new pipelines to Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Brussels and Moscow will on 24 November in Helsinki launch formal negotiations on a post-2007 EU-Russia partnership treaty, with Russian EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov recently indicating the draft text contains commitments on human rights but nothing on promotion of democratic standards.

Russia reacts

Russian investigators are currently chasing two ex-policemen, Alexander Prilepin and Valery Minin, in connection with Ms Politkovskaya's death, Russian daily Kommersant writes. The reporter's work helped expose the pair over killings in Chechnya and put their commander, Sergey Lapin, in jail.

Russian authorities are also conducting a broader investigation into Ms Politkovskaya's claims that a Kremlin-backed militia loyal to Chechnya prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov, has killed and badly beaten regular Russian army personnel stationed in the war-torn region, UK daily The Independent says.

Talking about contract killings on Russian TV on Wednesday, president Putin said "I hope the work on such crimes will be brought to a solution. This also applies to the killing of journalists, as well as economic crimes," adding that civil society and a free press are "necessary" to help stamp out corruption.

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