4th Aug 2020

Bereaved sons and mothers urge Barroso to be brave with Putin

  • Khodorkovskaya: "At some point world leaders need to stop shaking Putin's hand" (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

With Russia's Vladimir Putin and the EU's Jose Manuel Barroso to spend one hour in a man-to-man talk in Brussels on Thursday (24 February), close relatives of Anna Politkovskaya, Sergei Magnitsky, Alexander Litvinenko and Mikhail Khodorkovsky told EUobserver what Mr Barroso should be asking.

Ilia Politkovsky, the son of Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent Russian journalist shot in the head outside her home on Mr Putin's birthday in 2006, wants to know why the crime has not been solved.

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  • Energy issues likely to dominate EU summit despite relatives' appeal (Photo: gazprom.com)

"It's almost five years now and we don't have any serious developments in the investigation. We have just some middle and low-level people in the court - why is that?" he told this website. "We have a lot of PR progress. They speak loudly. They say it's almost solved. But we don't even have the killer or the people who ordered it. For us [the family] this is an imitation of an investigation. I honestly don't understand it."

Natalia Magnitskaya, the mother of Sergei Magntisky, a Russian lawyer who was murdered in police custody in 2009 after uncovering a corruption racket, sent this website a written question for the European Commission president.

"My son exposed a group of police officers and criminals who were stealing from the Russian state. He expected his government to support him in this. Instead the government allowed these officers to arrest him, kill him, and brand him a criminal. When is this lawlessness going to stop?" she said.

Marina Litvinenko, the widow of an ex-Russian secret service officer murdered in London in 2006 using radioactive poison, said by phone from the UK that Mr Barroso should focus on trust.

"How is it possible to co-operate with a person who stands accused of the murder of my husband? Before all these crimes are solved, how can people talk to him? How can they believe anything he says? Nothing which he has promised in the past has happened."

She noted that the poison - polonium-210 - was either given to the assassin by high-ranking officials with access to such materials or stolen from a nuclear site, posing questions about Russia's nuclear security. "This should be the question: If this is not solved, how can we move on? How can we trust you at all? How can we co-operate on security?"

Marina Khodorkovskaya, the mother of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an oligarch-turned-reformer who was jailed at Christmas until 2017 in a trial widely believed to be politically motivated, also wanted Mr Barroso to focus on the rule of law.

"[Mr Barroso] should demand of Russia that it respects its international commitments in the field of human rights and the rule of law," she said. "Putin is a man who said on TV before the verdict that my son was guilty and that 'a thief must sit in jail.' This is a sign of deep disrespect for basic democratic principles and is incompatible with Putin's law degree."

Opinion was divided as to whether the Barroso-Putin exchange will do any good.

Mr Politkovsky said: "I believe that if he gets these kinds of questions more and more, it might influence him to conduct the investigation more effectively."

Ms Litvinenko predicted that Mr Putin will lie: "I can imagine what he will say. He is not honest. He likes to present himself as a man of law but he doesn't like to talk about these things at all." Ms Khodorkovskaya was even more negative. "At some point world leaders need to stop shaking Putin's hand," she said.

Asked what kind of a man Mr Barroso's guest is on a personal level, Mr Politkovsky said: "He is a very powerful politician but I don't think he cares about the Russian people."

Ms Litvinenko said he has a mild personality disorder: "He believes that he is a kind of god. That he is untouchable." She added that the culture of the FSB, the secret police which trained both her husband and Mr Putin, will make Mr Barroso's job harder: "If you give them what they want, they think you are being weak. They think they can do something even worse to you."

Asked what they understand by 'Putinism' - a term used to describe Mr Putin's style of rule since he came to power in 2004 - Mr Politkovsky and Ms Litvinenko both said: corruption and fear. Ms Magnitsky was too afraid to answer.

"In the changes of the 1990s [the fall of the Soviet Union] we had many difficulties. But people felt free and had hope that something new was coming. Now under Putin, people live in fear once again. They feel they have to say what people expect them to say and to do what people expect them to do," Ms Litvinenko explained.

"I would like to say to Mr Barroso: don't be afraid of Putin. He's just a person."


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