Wednesday

8th Feb 2023

MEPs: protests show Putin has lost respect

  • Putin - the protests are the biggest so far in his 12-year-long rule (Photo: premier.gov.ru)

Prominent MEPs from Russia's big neighbours have said the mass anti-Putin protests in Moscow are a wake-up call for EU foreign policy.

Looking ahead to the EU-Russia summit in Brussels on Thursday (15 December), Elmar Brok, a senior member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right CDU party, said EU officials should urge the Kremlin to hold proper presidential elections in March.

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"It should be made clear they have to look for real elections - to give a fair chance to opposition politicians, to let them run and to make sure they have the means to run, and to let the international community monitor the campaign."

"[EU foreign affairs chief] Ashton should concentrate on rule of law and should hold Russia to account on the Magnitsky case," he added, referring to Sergei Magnitsky - a lawyer who died in mysterious circumstances in jail in 2009 after exposing high-level corruption.

Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, from the ruling centre-right Civic Platform party in Poland, said it is time the EU stopped giving Russia preferential treatment.

"It is time to rethink the EU strategy on Russia ... We are guilty of double standards. The EU is tough on Belarus and Ukraine but it is tolerant of Russia. If we want to impose conditions for signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine on freedom for Yulia Tymoshenko, we should make freedom for Khodorkovsky a condition for signing a new pact with Russia."

Former Ukrainian PM Tymoshenko was jailed in October in what the EU sees as a political witch hunt. Russian oligarch-turned-reformer Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been in jail since 2003.

The MEPs' remarks come as up to 50,000 people went out on the streets of Moscow on Saturday in an unprecedented protest against rigged parliamentary elections.

Russian PM Vladimir Putin's United Russia party officially won with 50 percent of votes. The result is a blow to Putin's authority (his party 'won' with 64 percent last time). International observers say the real result this time was closer to 30 percent.

The events in Moscow are being watched in neighbouring capitals. "I hope this is a lesson to the authorities in Kiev," an EU diplomat posted in the region told this website.

Looking at the Moscow protests, Brok said it shows "Putin went too far" in his attempt to hold on to power: "People do not have any respect left for the current system ... He's been in power for 12 years already and enough is enough. Like in the UK with [former leaders] Blair and Brown, people want to see a different face."

Brok criticised a Putin statement blaming the protest on outside interference from the US, calling it "an old Soviet trick."

Saryusz-Wolski said the scale of the protests shows there is "a tectonic shift in the Russian political scene ... his political weight has gone down and he will have to have some kind of dialogue with the opposition."

Putin's return poses questions for EU strategy

Germany and Poland have said the EU should co-operate more closely with Russia despite calls by liberal MEPs and the Russian opposition for a confrontational approach.

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