Wednesday

26th Jul 2017

Investigation

Time is ripe for EU to hold Russia to account

  • Verhofstadt (r) and Ojuland at the EU parliament in Brussels (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Despite what the Kremlin says, Russia is not threatened by so-called Western values.

Nor is it threatened by the European Parliament, the US state department, by what Russia likes to call "unnamed foreign powers," by Russian girl-punk bands, by Americans citizens who adopt Russian children or by NGOs funded from abroad which it says want to undermine Russian stability. 

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Instead, Russian citizens are themselves clamouring for change after being denied a genuine democratic choice in the Duma elections in December 2011.

In March, it will be one year since Vladimir Putin was re-elected President of the Russian Federation. His achievements are to be judged by the Russian people. But it is abundantly clear that Putin looks for his strength in Russia's totalitarian past.


The protest movement that started with the rigged Duma elections goes on.

An ever-growing segment of Russian society has become disillusioned with Putin's regime and has found renewed courage to speak out.

If the Kremlin behaved rationally, it would have seized this window of opportunity and embraced a roadmap toward deeper democracy. 

But the regime's response to the widespread protests was to silence and ridicule the opposition by using a combination of smokescreen reforms, repression, threats and dividing tactics.

Despite this, some Russian critics are warning that a Russian Spring, by analogy with the Arab Spring, could be in the offing if reform is consistently denied.


Russia today is a country where opposition politicians are arrested, critics are silenced and whistleblowers, like Sergei Magnitsky - who, in 2008 and 2009 exposed the theft of hundreds of millions of euros from Russian tax authorities - are murdered.

Meanwhile, the killers get promotions and top-level protection instead of prosecution and punishment.

Magnitsky's posthumous trial, which began this week, is just more evidence of how far the regime is willing to go to undermine the aspirations of its citizens.

This combination of repression and radicalisation could easily see political stagnation degenerate into instability. It is a pressure cooker which can easily explode.


From its inception, the EU-Russia partnership was expected to become more than a simple exchange of Russian hydrocarbons for European-made manufactured goods, medicine, food and, not least, luxury items.

It was seen as a process for normalising relations with Russia and encouraging it down the path towards becoming a modern, stable country with a more open society.


But the ambition is elusive.

The deteriorating situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms is routinely deplored by NGOs, the EU and the US alike.

The response from the Kremlin is to bury its head in the sand and issue tit-for-tat allegations to deflect criticism. 

Many in the Kremlin view the EU as lacking unity and resolve in external relations, but member states are moving closer to a common position on Russia than ever before.

For its part, the European Parliament found a substantial majority for describing the state Duma elections as neither free nor fair.

There is also cross-party support for targeted EU sanctions on Russian officials involved in Magnitsky's murder.

The latter is not just another resolution - we have seen several national parliaments in the European Union follow suit and a number of money laundering investigations opened on the basis of information uncovered by Magnitsky and his former employers, the UK-based investment firm Hermitage Capital.


We sense positive momentum in the European Council.

This is in part due to the fact that the 'new' member states are becoming better able to make themselves heard within the EU, but also because the 'older' and 'bigger' states - Germany in particular - are growing ever more critical and ever more frustrated with the false expectations in EU relations with Russia. 

Meanwhile, Russia's recent accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and its rulebook has given rise to new concerns over neglect of pre-membership commitments, generating a potential future trade dispute with the biggest advocate of Russia's WTO accession, the EU.

 The credibility of the EU to inspire change in Russia depends on its honesty.

Paying lip service to a regime that has no respect for its citizens or its own constitution, let alone its own international commitments, is plainly wrong.

This is why European leaders should make it crystal clear to Putin that trampling on democracy and human rights will have consequences for EU-Russia relations. 
Now is not the time to hide behind diplomatic courtesies.

It is time to be a plain-speaking friend to Russia and to point out that prosperity and stability can only be guaranteed in the long-term by freedom and democracy. 

The international community can help by committing to a new Helsinki process that will create a network of influential and well-informed opinion leaders throughout Europe and the US on the model of the Cold-War-era Helsinki movement.

The primary focus of such a process would be to ensure Russia's compliance with its existing commitments. 


As a member of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and of the Council of Europe, the Russian Federation has obligations to abide by the same democratic rules as other normal countries. 

Russia is not an exception for which we must turn a blind eye to injustice and authoritarianism.

It is a modern, pluralistic, multicultural country, whose people deserve better. The EU must be willing to show determination over deference and principle over pragmatism.

Guy Verhofstadt is the leader of the Liberal group in the EU parliament and the former prime minister of Belgium. Kristiina Ojuland is a Liberal group MEP and the former foreign minister of Estonia

About Andrew Rettman

Andrew Rettman writes about foreign relations for EUobserver. He joined the site in 2005 and specialises in Israel, Russia, the EU foreign service and security issues. He was born in Warsaw, Poland.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  3. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  4. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  5. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  6. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  7. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  8. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  10. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  11. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  12. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way

Latest News

  1. EU and Turkey fail to defuse tensions
  2. European law will apply 'for years' in the UK, says EU judge
  3. US votes to sanction EU firms in Russia project
  4. Journalists on trial highlight Turkey crackdown
  5. EU to give research tips on dual food quality
  6. Polish president's veto leaves uncertainties over next move
  7. EU Commission unmoved by Polish president's veto
  8. UK presses the Brexit pause button

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  2. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  3. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  5. EU2017EEPM Ratas: EU Is Not Only an Idea for the 500mn People in the Bloc, It Is Their Daily Reality
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy
  7. ILGA-EuropeGermany Finally Says Ja - Bundestag Votes for Marriage Equality!
  8. EPSUJapanese and European Public Sector Unions Slam JEFTA
  9. World VisionEU, Young Leaders and Civil Society Join Forces to End Violence Against Girls
  10. UNICEFNarrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Health of the Poorest Children
  11. EU2017EEEstonia to Surprise Europe With Unique Cultural Programme
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Talks Should Insist on Ending Reprisals Vs. Critical Voices