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EU to use new 'Magnitsky' sanctions in response to Navalny poisoning and imprisonment

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At today’s (22 February) Foreign Affairs Council, ministers had a comprehensive and strategic discussion on EU-Russia relations, in preparation for a strategic debate on EU-Russia relations at the next European Council. During the debate a shared assessment emerged that Russia was drifting towards an authoritarian state and away from Europe. 

EU Magnitsky Act

On Alexander Navalny, ministers agreed to make use of the recently adopted EU global human rights regime for the first time since its inception, the so-called EU Magnitsky Act.

“In response to the events around the situation of Mr. Navalny we reached a political agreement to impose restrictive measures against those responsible for his arrest, sentencing and persecution. For the first time ever we will make use of the EU Global Human Rights Regime to this end,” Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Borrell was asked if the EU would be prepared to sanction oligarchs close to Putin, as Navalny has requested, but Borrell replied that he could only propose sanctions on those directly involved, otherwise the sanctions would be found to be illegal. 

Push back, contain, engage

Ministers discussed how it should deal with Russia in the current circumstances. The High Representative outlined three elements to the EU approach. The EU will push back on infringements of international law and human rights. It will try to contain disinformation and cyberattacks, but will also engage on issues of interest to the EU.

Ministers also agreed to increase support to all those engaged in defending political and civil freedoms in Russia.

Armenia

Armenian PM warns of coup attempt after army demands he quit

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Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (pictured) warned of an attempted military coup against him on Thursday (25 February) and called on his supporters to rally in the capital after the army demanded he and his government resign, writes Nvard Hovhannisyan.

The Kremlin, an ally of Armenia, said it was alarmed by events in the former Soviet republic, where Russia has a military base, and urged the sides to resolve the situation peacefully and within the framework of the constitution.

Pashinyan has faced calls to quit since November after what critics said was his disastrous handling of a six-week conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and surrounding areas.

Ethnic Armenian forces ceded swathes of territory to Azerbaijan in the fighting, and Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to the enclave, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated by ethnic Armenians.

Pashinyan, 45, has repeatedly rejected calls to step down despite opposition protests. He says he takes responsibility for what happened but now needs to ensure his country’s security.

On Thursday, the army added its voice to those calling for him to resign.

“The ineffective management of the current government and the serious mistakes in foreign policy have put the country on the brink of collapse,” the army said in a statement.

It was unclear whether the army was willing to use force to back the statement, in which it called for Pashinyan to resign, or whether its call for him to step down was just verbal.

Pashinyan responded by calling on his followers to rally in the centre of the capital, Yerevan, to support him and took to Facebook to address the nation in a livestream.

“The most important problem now is to keep the power in the hands of the people, because I consider what is happening to be a military coup,” he said.

In the livestream, he said he had dismissed the head of the general staff of the armed forces, a move that still needs to be signed off by the president.

Pashinyan said a replacement would be announced later and that the crisis would be overcome constitutionally. Some of his opponents said they also planned to rally in the centre of Yerevan later on Thursday.

Arayik Harutyunyan, president of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, offered to act as a mediator between Pashinyan and the general staff.

“We have already shed enough blood. It’s time to overcome the crises and move on. I’m in Yerevan and I’m ready to become a mediator to overcome this political crisis,” he said.

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Russia

Putin’s Russia en route to self-isolation

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A lot is currently going on in Russia, with one of the most discussed topics being the detainment of Navalny and replacing his suspended sentence with an actual jail sentence. We will not discuss the legal peculiarities of Russia, nor will we talk about how the international community will most likely agree to impose new sanctions against Russia. We will talk about how Putin’s Russia is deliberately taking the path of self-isolation, writes Zintis Znotiņš.

Yes, you read that correctly – Russia, i.e. Putin, is rapidly heading towards self-isolation. And it makes sense if you think about it. Essentially, Putin can only remain in power if Russia becomes isolated from the rest of the world. We could be witnesses to attempts to create a new version of North Korea.

Of course, there are no official documents or decrees issued by Putin that clearly state something like this, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.

What is needed to ensure the existence of an isolated regime? Such regimes are based on three pillars – the army, internal forces (both law enforcement and legislative institutions) and propaganda/agitation.

We’ve talked plenty about Putin’s announcements regarding armaments. If weapons can be generally divided into defensive and offensive ones, Putin’s Russia is establishing its defense doctrine based on its offensive weapons. This means that currently one of Russia’s most important tasks is to ensure, or at least create an illusion, that the Russian Armed Forces are capable of engaging in combat on any level. Naturally, supplying the army significantly worsens the livelihoods of the regular people. Is Putin concerned about such trifles? I don’t think he is. We can compare the current situation with the arming of the USSR in the early 40-ies and during the Cold War when USSR citizens were drowning in poverty because all of the money was used for armaments and to ensure that no one can freely leave the happy USSR.

What concerns internal forces, these can be divided into two segments – internal law enforcement structures and legislative institutions. If we look at the eagerness of law enforcement to suppress protesters, it’s clear that neither Putin, nor Lukashenko have to worry about this aspect. Law enforcement remains loyal. However, Putin should remember history, i.e. that during all the important events of Russia, the army and the police have sided with the people.

What concerns legislative institutions, this is where Putin can feel the safest. Currently, there are 441 State Duma deputies, and 335 of them represent the party United Russia. For those who don’t know, Russia is one of the unique nations where someone first became president and only then a party was established. Moreover, parties are usually created to achieve particular goals or “ideals”, regardless of its leaders, and United Russia was purposely created to support Putin: the charter of the party states that it’s goal is to support the president. This means that Putin can be certain that the legislative system is working for him. In Russia, legislature is more intended to be an imitation of democracy, but in reality it accepts and obeys Putin’s wishes.

For instance, a draft law is being reviewed that would amend Russia’s Criminal Code to punish (with a jail sentence of up to five years) those that falsify facts about World War II. Naturally, falsification in the sense of Russian law means any opinion that doesn’t correspond with Putin’s views. Another example – Putin has asked the State Duma to pass a law that forbids comparisons between Nazi Germany and the USSR. Does anyone have any doubts that Putin’s wish will be fulfilled? Lastly, everyone is aware that due to Russia’s actions it’s officials are being subject to different sanctions. Do you think that Russian officials then try to understand what they did wrong and attempt to improve in order to live in harmony? No, of course not, instead the Russian State Duma is considering to pass a law that would intend criminal punishment for persons that discuss sanctions being imposed against Russia. This means that, for example, if a foreign official or a regular citizen expresses an opinion that sanctions should be imposed against Russia because of its actions, they can get punished in Russia. Great idea, isn’t it? There is no doubt that the law in Russia is intended to blindly serve Putin.

Let’s look at propaganda/agitation. In order for any propaganda to be effective, it needs to be spread as widely as possible and any other opinions must be simultaneously silenced. And it’s well-known fact that if you begin brainwashing people at an early age, it will only be a matter of time until they truly believe you.

This means that it’s crucial to begin explaining to people what is right and wrong as early as possible. In Soviet times, schools had political information classes where children were taught about the wishes of the leaders of the party. Putin has expressed numerous times that he wants to resurrect the USSR. This is impossible on the same geographical scale, but it can still be done in the current territory. There is no need to reinvent the wheel – just use the previously acquired experience. In response to the high participation of pupils and students in the recent protests against the jailing of Navalny, Russian schools will now have a special post, i.e. advisor to the teacher whose responsibility will be to suppress such sentiments. A source close to the Russian Presidential Administration revealed that the participation of young people in the protests was discussed on the “highest level” and that the administration decided to activate “all of the existing projects concerning this issue”. Well, we’ve covered propaganda and agitation – in Russia already since the first grade until the graduation of a university young people will be told that Putin is great, Russia is friendly and everything outside of Russia is rotten. Just like in the good old Soviet Union.

What is the situation regarding the freedom of speech and media freedom in Russia? You’ve probably heard – the situation is prefect, i.e. these things simply do not exist.

What concerns the freedom of speech, in 2020 Russia was ranked 149th out of 180 countries. North Korea was ranked 180th.

The country is run by state propaganda and agitation, but there is one obstacle – the internet. Of course, the internet can be subject to control, but not completely. So, what is the solution here? The answer is – just turn off the internet. It may sound impossible, but Dmitry Medvedev has already talked about this, saying that if necessary Russia is legally and technologically ready to disconnect form the world wide web.

What can we conclude from all this? First, Putin has ensured that the army serves as an instrument of deterrence, and not because of its defensive potential, but because of its offensive capabilities. Even if these capabilities are non-existent, it’s important to make others believe in them.

Second, law enforcement authorities in Russia are vast and, at least for now, loyal to Putin. Moreover, legislators are ready to fulfill all of Putin’s wishes.

The media publishes only pro-Putin information, and if someone tries to express a different opinion, they are quickly silenced. An in order to ensure future stability, Russia has decided to brainwash children from a very young age. The only thing that could hinder this is the internet. However, the internet cannot be a problem if there is no internet.

You have to agree that such a situation cannot accidentally come together. This is the result of deliberate actions, and these actions are inevitably moving Russia closer to self-isolation. Nothing from the outside will be allowed in Russia. Can Putin truly benefit from such a situation? I would say yes, because he is fully aware of what could happen if the regime isn’t isolated. Putin’s Russia and North Korea already had numerous similarities, but it now seems Putin wants Russia to become indistinguishable from its ideological sister.

All views expressed in the above article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect any views on the part of EU Reporter.

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EU

‘Russia seeks to divide us, they haven’t succeeded’ Borrell

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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell addressed MEPs (9 February) over his controversial visit to Russia. Borrell defended his decision to meet in person with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. 

The visit came in the wake of a crackdown on political opposition in Russia following the arrest and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny on his return to Russia. 

Borrell said there were two objectives behind his visit. Firstly, to convey the EU’s position on human rights, political freedoms and on Alexei Navalny, which he described as a tense exchange. He also wanted to find out if Russian authorities were interested in a serious attempt to reverse the deterioration in relations, he said the answer to this question was clear, they are not. 

Borrell confirmed that the news of the expulsion of three diplomats on unfounded allegations came to their attention via social media while they were still in talks with Lavrov. Borrell said that he understood that this was a clear message. 

The high representative will meet with foreign ministers and will make proposals to the next European Council and may take the initiative to propose sanctions.

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