The EU must be more vocal in its criticism of Vladimir Putin

While European governments have taken action against Russia's violations of Ukrainian sovereignty, too little is being done about its violations of the rights and freedoms of its own population.

While European governments have taken action against Russia’s violations of Ukrainian sovereignty, too little is being done about its violations of the rights and freedoms of its own population

Putin’s aggression toward its neighbours has required urgent attention but must never overshadow the human rights situation in Russia itself. Civil society, journalists and opposition figures are increasingly being repressed and intimidated.

Last Thursday, the European Parliament voted on a resolution urging Russia to stop the crackdown on civil society and non-governmental organisations. The direct cause of the resolution is the case of Memorial, a human rights group under threat of closure. Russia’s justice ministry asked the Supreme Court to “liquidate” Memorial, the final hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for November 13.

The closing of Memorial, a so-called ‘foreign agent,’ would be more than symbolic.

Its founder, Andrei Sakharov, inspired the name of the European Parliament human rights award. The Sakharov award was given to Memorial in 2009.

The organisation plays an important role in Russian society, preserving societal memory of the severe political repression and persecution during the Soviet Union.

It has been documenting human rights violations in the volatile north Caucasus region, and earlier this year Memorial called on the government to stop Russian aggression in Ukraine. Over the past years, Memorial has provided legal and moral support to some of the most important Russian critics of the regime, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Alexei Navalny.

More recently, it declared Nadia Savchenko, a Ukrainian fighter pilot being held in Russia, a political prisoner.

Memorial is now being brought to court because of a technical violation involving the group’s organisational structure, which lacks a central office to oversee all of its operations. The Group is meeting on the 19th of November to discuss its organisation, but the Supreme Court seems to be pushing ahead with the trial on the 13th.

At a time of strained relations between Russia and the EU, the message Putin wants to send is clear. But the attack on Memorial must be seen in the wider context of repression and persecution in Russia.

Russian laws systematically undermine freedoms and give authorities greater unchecked powers. A law on ‘foreign agents’ was adopted in July 2012, requiring NGOs that receive foreign funding and are engaged in what is termed as ‘political activity’ to be put on a special governments list, being subjected to increased scrutiny by the government. A branch of Memorial was also put on this list.

A wide crack-down on NGOs last year was instigated on the basis of this law. NGOs such as Amnesty international and Human Rights Watch were raided in a broad sweep that was billed as an attempt to weed out foreign agents.

Despite all of the above, Memorial’s board remains hopeful, that maybe the harsh attacks will backfire. Optimism often proves essential for surviving repression.

The government of the Russian federation should at the very least adhere to agreements it has itself made, in the context of the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the European Court of Human Rights, and of course its own constitution. We see a clear distinction between ill-guided Kremlin policies and the population of Russia.

Further, the EU must be more vocal of its criticism of Putin’s policies. The European Parliament has repeatedly called for the High Representative, Lady Ashton, and the European Council to put the questions of sanctions against Russian officials involved in human rights violations on the table.

Thus far, this has not happened. While European governments have taken action against Russia’s violations of Ukrainian sovereignty, too little is being done about its blatant violations of the rights and freedoms of its own population.

We must not allow the Kremlin to let Russia’s external aggression obscure its internal repression.

Marietje Schaake is a Dutch member of the European Parliament (D66/ALDE Group)

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27 Responses to “The EU must be more vocal in its criticism of Vladimir Putin”

  1. robertcp

    The situation in Russia is not good but it is an independent country outside the EU.

  2. swat

    Putin is the only leader at present stopping the world from falling apart, which isn’t saying much really. The West insists on supporting the wrong rebels for all the wrong reasons and multiplying what should be a very simple problem: the elimination of islamofacism.

  3. Dave Roberts

    Did Russia release that officer they kidnapped from one of the Baltic countries?

  4. Cole

    Complete nonsense. Putin is a dictatorial thug who recently annexed a chunk of another country which he continues to destabilise. It’s interesting that the British hard right (eg Ukip) admire Putin, but they’ve always admired strongmen.

  5. The_Average_Joe_UK

    Whilst I agree with your first sentence, why the smearing?

    ….. another silly lefty spins yet more BS “the British hard right (eg Ukip)” Are the good people of Heywood & Middleton hard right?

    You lefties live in a fantasy world.

  6. Observer

    Vocal against criminals like Cameron and Farrage will be better for the EU.
    Putin is a friend, not a foe!

  7. GhostofJimMorrison

    How’s that, then? Been watching too much RT, have we?

  8. Dave Roberts

    I thought RT was a comedy channel. The Keiser report is unbelievable. This guy wanted Bit coin as a world currency.

  9. Guest

    “Falling apart”.#

    Ah, so what do we need? More gay people beaten up? More invasions of European countries? More intimidation of the press? More seizures of business by crony capitalists?

    Your call to genocide 1.6 bilion people. as you call for supporting Hamas, for supporting the thugs in Western Ukraine who drove the Jews of the area out, for supporting Assad and his chlorine bombs…

  10. Guest

    Keep spewing that PC bigotry, as you strongly support Putin despite admitting what he is. And when did they say they shared your views?

  11. Guest

    So he’s to the left of you then? No surprises there.

  12. Leon Wolfeson

    …Which has invaded another European country. Concern!

  13. Cole

    The people of Heywood and Middleton elected a Labour MP, so they’re clearly lefties. But what’s that got to with anything? Farage is on record praising Putin. It’s a fact, not a smear.

  14. Cole

    Seems the right whingers love Putin…

  15. Cole

    Blimey. Work for the KGB/FSB do you? Or are you a kipper?

  16. CGR

    The EU sponsored the illegal coup in the Ukraine that put fascists into the government and created yet another unstable state on Russia’s southern boarders

  17. Leon Wolfeson

    Keep spewing your Putinite crap, it’s Russia who has sponsored your “seperatists”, who have driven Jews out in your time-honoured fashion for your far right. Meanwhile, the areas of the Ukraine not under Russian control just had democratic elections, anathemato you.

    Your Dear Leader Putin created the instability, and I’m sure you’ll justify the next invasion on that basis, and the next, and… but hey, what else would I expect from someone like you who supported snipers murdering peaceful protesters.

  18. Guest

    You’re discussing it with someone who calls Jews Nazi’s, and makes threats. It’s not worth engaging him with your name on it.

  19. robertcp

    This situation was started by the removal of a democratically elected government in Ukraine.

  20. robertcp

    Yes , but the article was about the internal situation in Russia.

  21. Cole

    Er, the government was kicked out in a democratic way. Happens sometimes. Anyway, no-one wants lessons in democracy from fans of Putin.

  22. robertcp

    I disagree. The government was not kicked out following an election, which is the usual democratic way.

  23. Coke

    Not necessarily. Parliaments – who broadly represent the people – quite often kick out governments. And there’s just been an election in Ukraine (minus the bits Putin and his murderous mates have invaded) and they don’t seem keen on the Russians or Putin.

  24. robertcp

    I have no axe to grind but I can remember being concerned that the situation might get violent. I was right.

  25. Guest

    You’re making excuses for a murderering autocrat? Oh dear.

  26. Guest

    There was violence being used. Protesters were being murdered by snipers.

  27. robertcp

    The protestors were trying to get rid of an elected government. That is very dangerous!

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