Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Russia complains of 'Cold War' prejudice in EU visa talks

  • Moscow airport: For its critics, Russia's own abuse of rule of law is at the heart of bad relations (Photo: LuisJouJR)

Russia's EU ambassador has blamed Cold-War-era prejudice in some EU countries for lack of progress in visa-free talks.

Vladimir Chizhov told EUobserver that negotiations on letting Russian officials, or "service passport" holders, enter the EU without a visa are moving forward.

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He said Russia agreed to limit the number of eligible people to those with passports which have electronic security features.

But he noted: "Some 'fears' still persist among certain EU countries, however ridiculous and reminiscent of the times of the Cold War they may seem, thus making the rest of facilitations envisaged hostage of their past and [creating] distrust unworthy of a genuine strategic partnership that we are striving for."

He said the Russian officials in question are "mostly … engaged in further developing Russia-EU relations."

His thinly veiled allusion to objections by former Soviet and former Communist EU member countries comes shortly before the next EU-Russia summit, expected in December.

The twice-yearly meetings have failed to yield concrete results in recent years.

One EU source said there could be a visa deal in time for December. But two other EU contacts voiced scepticism.

Russia has a few bargaining chips up its sleeve: It could drop punitive tariffs on EU car imports in return for a visa deal, or it could threaten to re-impose passenger data transfer demands on EU airlines.

But even if Russia gets its way, the European Parliament might put a spanner in the works.

MEPs must approve any EU-Russia travel pact in a plenary vote.

But a sizeable bloc of deputies is keen to exclude Russian officials linked to the alleged murder of Russian whistleblower-auditor Sergei Magnitsky from any visa waiver.

Chizhov noted that EU countries have so far ignored MEPs' calls for an EU travel ban on the so-called Magnitsky list.

He said the idea is "built on a preconceived opinion without any desire to assess the situation impartially, from the point of view of the rule of law." He added: "It is satisfying that our partners in the EU have the necessary wisdom to avoid mixing un-mixable things."

But for its critics, Russia's own abuse of rule of law is at the heart of bad relations.

Magnitsky's family on Sunday (20 October) complained that a court verdict, which brands him as a tax fraud after a posthumous show trial, is "shameful."

Magnitsky's former employer, the London-based investment firm Hermitage capital, said it is "immoral and unconstitutional."

Meanwhile, one former Russian official on the list, Pavel Karpov, recently lost a libel case against Hermitage in a British court after the judge said it stank of "abuse of the [British legal] process."

Russia's attempt to brand Hermitage chief Bill Browder as a criminal was in July also thrown out by the international police agency, Interpol. It said it rejected the Kremlin's request for a "red notice" because it was "predominantly political in nature."

Embarrassment on Browder did not stop Russia from using Interpol against another one of its enemies, however: Estonian politician Eerik Kross.

Interpol on Friday published a red notice saying he is wanted for "organisation of piracy."

Kross, a former Estonian intelligence chief who helped it to join Nato and who helped Georgia to fight off Russian cyber attacks in the 2008 war, was running for election as mayor of Tallinn when the Interpol notice went online.

Interpol declined to comment on its decision.

But Interpol critics believe Russia is trying to use it to harm Kross' chances of getting elected.

Kross himself previously told EUobserver the idea that he masterminded the hijacking of a Russian ship, the Arctic Sea, in Swedish waters in 2009, is "idiotic."

Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election

Smer, Slovakia's ruling party, wants the country's media to give politicians a right-of-reply, or face stiff fines. Advocates of a free press are alarmed, and it poses a problem for the European Commission, whose vice-president is a Smer presidential candidate.

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