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Kremlin politics: MEPs call for EU strategy to promote democracy in Russia

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The Foreign Affairs Committee says the EU must push back against Russia’s aggressive policies while laying groundwork for co-operation with a future democratic country, AFET .

In a new assessment of the direction of EU-Russia political relations, MEPs make clear the Parliament distinguishes between the Russian people and President Vladimir Putin’s regime. The latter is, they say, a “stagnating authoritarian kleptocracy led by a president-for-life surrounded by a circle of oligarchs”.

MEPs stress, however, that Russia can have a democratic future and that the Council must adopt an EU strategy for a future democratic Russia, encompassing incentives and conditions to strengthen democratic domestic tendencies.

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The text was approved by 56 votes in favour, nine against with five abstentions.

Work with like-minded partners to strengthen democracy

MEPs state the EU must establish an alliance with the U.S. and other like-minded partners to counterbalance the efforts of Russia and China to weaken democracy worldwide and destabilise the European political order. It should foresee sanctions, policies to counter illicit financial flows, and support for human rights activists.

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Support to Russia’s’ neighbouring countries

On Russia’s aggression and influence over the EU’s eastern neighbourhood, the EU must continue to support so-called “Eastern Partnership” countries, to promote European reforms and fundamental freedoms, MEPs say. These efforts should also serve to encourage Russians to support democracy.

MEPs also suggest using the Conference on the Future of Europe to prepare the EU institutions for a renewed momentum in European integration of the EU’s eastern neighbourhood.

Reduce the EU’s energy dependency on Russia, fighting “dirty money” at home

The text further states that the EU needs to cut its dependency on Russian gas and oil and other raw materials, at least while President Putin is in power. The European Green Deal and the boosting of new resources will play a crucial geopolitical role in this regard.

MEPs say the EU must also build its capacity to expose and stop the flows of dirty money from Russia, as well as to expose the resources and financial assets of the Russian regime’s autocrats and oligarchs hidden in EU member states.

Worries ahead of the 2021 parliamentary elections in Russia

Members conclude by saying that the EU must be prepared to withhold recognition of the Russian parliament, if the 2021 parliamentary elections are considered to have been conducted in violation of democratic principles and international law.

“Russia can be a democracy. The EU has to work out a comprehensive set of principles, a strategy, based on the fundamental values the EU is promoting. Defending ‘Democracy First’ in EU relations with Russia is our first task. The EU and its institutions have to work on the assumption that change is possible in Russia. It also needs more courage in taking a strong stance vis-a-vis the Kremlin regime when it comes to defending human rights; this is what strategic engagement with the Russian people is all about. It is about ending domestic repression, returning the choice to the people, and freeing all political prisoners,” said rapporteur Andrius Kubilius (EPP, Lithuania) after the vote.

Next steps

The report will now be submitted to a vote in the European Parliament as a whole.

More information 

Alexei Navalny'

Russia hits Navalny with new charge that could add to jail term

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Russian authorities announced a new criminal charge against Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Wednesday (11 August), the latest move in a crackdown ahead of September's parliamentary election that could add as much as three years to his prison term, write Andrey Ostroukh, Alexander Marrow, Tom Balmforth and Anton Zverev.

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin's fiercest domestic critic, is serving a 2-1/2-year sentence for parole violations he calls trumped up. He was arrested after flying back from Germany where he had recovered from a nerve agent poisoning.

Navalny and his allies have faced pressure for years, but his political network was outlawed in June after a court formally labelled his anti-corruption foundation and regional campaign groups as extremist. Read more.

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The Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said in a statement that Navalny had been charged with creating an organization that "infringes on the personality and rights of citizens", a crime punishable by up to three years in jail.

It said that his Anti-Corruption Foundation had incited Russians to break the law and take part in unauthorised protests demanding his release in January that authorities said were illegal.

The opposition politician's allies who post on social media under the name Team Navalny described the accusation as "the latest meaningless charge".

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"No one infringes on the personality and rights of citizens like Putin himself and all his henchmen, including the Investigative Committee," they said on Telegram messenger.

The charge comes a day after the Investigative Committee on Tuesday announced a new criminal investigation into two close Navalny allies, who are based abroad, for raising funds for his political network. Read more.

On Sunday (8 August), Russian media outlets reported that Lyubov Sobol, a close Navalny ally, had left Russia and flown to Turkey. She has not commented on her whereabouts and her allies have declined to comment.

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Defence

Kremlin says NATO membership for Ukraine would be 'red line'

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The Kremlin said on Thursday (17 June) that Ukrainian membership of NATO would be a "red line" for Moscow and that it was worried by talk that Kyiv may one day be granted a membership action plan, write Anton Zverev and Tom Balmforth, Reuters.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the remarks a day after US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks in Geneva. Peskov said the summit had been positive overall.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday (14 June) that he wanted a clear "yes" or "no" from Biden on giving Ukraine a plan to join the NATO. Read more.

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Biden said Ukraine needed to root out corruption and to meet other criteria before it could join.

Peskov said Moscow was following the situation closely.

"This is something we are watching very closely and this really is a red line for us - as regards the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO," Peskov told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

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"Of course, this (the question of a membership plan for Ukraine) raises our concerns," he said.

Peskov said that Moscow and Washington agreed at the Geneva summit that they needed to holds talks on arms control as soon as possible.

Biden and Putin agreed at the summit to embark on regular negotiations to try to lay the groundwork for future arms control agreements and risk reduction measures.

Russia's deputy foreign minister said earlier on Thursday (17 June) that Moscow expected those talks with Washington to start within weeks. He made the comments in a newspaper interview that was published on the foreign ministry's website on Thursday.

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