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EU must be ready to not recognize Russian Duma elections says EPP

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“We need an overhaul of Europe's policy vis-à-vis Russia. We must deter Russian threats, contain Russian interference within the EU and its neighbourhood and strategically support pro-democratic forces in Russia. We have to work on the assumption that change is possible in this country and that ‘democracy first’ is our first task in our relations with Russia. Russia can be a democracy,” said Andrius Kubilius MEP of EPP ahead of the 14 September plenary debate on the future of EU-Russia political relations.

A parliamentary Report, which Kubilius authored and which will be put to vote today (15 September), stresses that Europe should engage with Moscow on issues of common interest, such as arms control, peace building, global security or climate change. Such cooperation should, however, be strictly conditioned by the Kremlin’s willingness to observe human rights and international laws. “The cooperation in certain specific fields should not lead to any concessions on the EU’s values and should never disregard the implications for our partners. We need more courage in taking a strong stance vis-à-vis the Kremlin regime to defend human rights. We must make sure that any further engagement with the Kremlin depends on Mr Putin’s willingness to end aggressions, repressions and intimidations inside and outside Russia,” underlined Kubilius.

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The report further stresses that the EU must be prepared to not recognise the Russian Duma and to suspend the country from international parliamentary assemblies, including that of the Council of Europe, in case this week's parliamentary elections in Russia are recognized as fraudulent. “People in Russia must have the right of choice, like people in any other democratic country. When key opposition players and opponents of the Russian ruling party are in prison or under house arrest, then there is no choice. The Kremlin’s continuous repression of all opposition candidates, free media or NGOs undermines the legitimacy and fairness of the elections. We reiterate that the opposition leader Alexei Navalny must be released as well as all those who supported him during peaceful protests,” concluded Kubilius.

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Moldova

Russian elections on Moldovan territory

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A defiance of a sovereign and independent state, that’s how Foreign Ministry officials from the Republic of Moldova described last week’s decision by the Russian Federation to open polling stations in the breakaway Transnistrian region, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

Transnistria is an unrecognized breakaway state located in the narrow strip of land between the river Dniester and the Moldovan–Ukrainian border that is internationally recognized as part of the Republic of Moldova.

The Russian backed region has been the bone of contention between Russia and the Republic of Moldova ever since Moldova gain its independence in August 1991.

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The Russian federal election that took place at the end of last week reignited the debate over Transnistria, prompting Moldovan officials to react.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration regrets that, despite the position consistently expressed by the Moldovan authorities, the Russian side has acted in a manner that does not correspond to the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova and the bilateral legal framework”, officials in Chisinau said in a press release.

The press release issued by Moldavian authorities goes on say that officials called on the Russian side to refrain from opening the 27 polling stations in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova.

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Moldovan diplomats “requested since July 30 that Russia not open polling stations in localities under the control of the constitutional authorities of the Republic of Moldova given also the impossibility of ensuring the necessary security conditions for the conduct of the election “, the press release shows.

Political pundits in the Republic of Moldova argued that the government avoided a harsher tone in relation to Moscow to avoid complicating the situation.

Speaking to EU Reporter, political science professor and expert on the former soviet region, Armand Gosu said that the election for the Russian Duma held on Moldova’s territory represents “indisputably a violation of the sovereignty of the Republic of Moldova. Moscow negotiated directly with Tiraspol (capital of Transnitria) the opening and operation of polling stations on the territory of the separatist republic, which amounts to not recognizing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova.”

Russia has in past got involved in organizing elections in the breakaway region of Transnistria. Despite protests in Chisinau, Russia has continued to increase the number of polling stations in the Transnistrian separatist enclave at every election in recent years.

In addition to Transnistria, Russian authorities opened polling stations in Chisinau, the capital city of Moldova, as well as the cities of Comrat and Balti. It is the largest number of polling stations opened by Russia outside its borders.

Russia has so far offered more than 220,000 Russian passports in Transnistria, which means that about two-thirds of the citizens living on the left bank of the Dniester are already Russian citizens. Yet, according to data by authorities in Transnistria, the turnout wasn’t rosy showing that only 27,000 people voted in the separatist region.

But for Transnistria, this election is about pleasing Putin.

“For separatist leaders, it is important to prove their loyalty to the Kremlin by delivering as many votes as possible for Putin's party”, Gosu told EU Reporter.

Armand Gosu also commented on the nature of the Russian election saying that “the elections in Russia are neither fair nor reflect the will of the electorate.”

The same view was shared by Pasa Valeriu working for the Moldovan based NGO, WatchDog.MD, who told EU Reporter that ”I can’t call what is happening in Russia as being an election. It’s nothing more than a sham. Therefore the question of a secure electoral process in Transnistria falls under the same category.”

Last week’s election in Transnistria for the Russian Duma was widely publicized by the local administration and its sponsored media.

It was portrayed as very important for the breakaway region and used to showcase Russia's decisive role, its help and support for the region. The reality paints a different story with Russia's assistance, as well as trade with Transnistrian, one of the poorest regions in Europe, steadily declining over the past years.

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Russia

Russia responsible for Litvinenko killing, European rights court rules

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A copy of The Litvinenko Inquiry Report is seen during a news conference in London, Britain, January 21, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Files

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday (21 September) that Russia was responsible for the 2006 killing of ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko who died an agonizing death after he was poisoned in London with Polonium 210, a rare radioactive isotope, write Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden.

Kremlin critic Litvinenko, 43, died weeks after drinking green tea laced with polonium-210 at London’s plush Millennium hotel in an attack Britain has long blamed on Moscow.

In its ruling, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) concluded Russia was responsible for the killing.

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"It found that Mr Litvinenko’s assassination was imputable to Russia," its statement said.

Russia has always denied any involvement in Litvinenko's death which plunged Anglo-Russian relations to a post-Cold War low.

A lengthy British inquiry concluded in 2016 that Russian President Vladimir Putin probably approved a Russian intelligence operation to murder Litvinenko.

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It also found that former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoy and another Russian, Dmitry Kovtun, carried out the killing as part of an operation probably directed by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

The ECHR agreed. Both men have always denied involvement.

"The court found it established, beyond reasonable doubt, that the assassination had been carried out by Mr Lugovoy and Mr Kovtun," the ruling said.

"The planned and complex operation involving the procurement of a rare deadly poison, the travel arrangements for the pair, and repeated and sustained attempts to administer the poison indicated that Mr Litvinenko had been the target of the operation."

It too concluded that the Russian state was to blame and that had the men been carrying out a "rogue operation", Moscow would have the information to prove that theory.

"However, the government had made no serious attempt to provide such information or to counter the findings of the UK authorities," the ruling said.

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Russia

Europe condemns atmosphere of fear surrounding Russian elections

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Asked about this week’s Duma and regional elections in the Russian federation, Peter Stano, the EU’s External Action Service spokesman said that the elections had taken place in an atmosphere of fear. The EU has noted that independent and reliable sources have reported serious violations of electoral law.

Stano said that elections, wherever they are taking place in the world, should be run in a free and fair way. He said the elections had taken place without any credible international observation and that the EU regretted Russia’s decision to severely reduce and restrict the size and format of the OSCE - Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights mission thereby preventing its deployment.  

Stano said the crackdown on opposition politicians, civil society organizations, civil society activists, human rights activists, independent media outlets and against journalists ahead of the election was aimed at silencing critical opposition and removing competition. 

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The European Commission calls on the Russian Federation to abide by its commitments taken within the UN and Council of Europe framework in terms of protection of human rights and democratic values, which includes also organizing free and fair elections. 

Ukraine

The spokesperson added that the European Commission will never recognize the elections in illegally annexed Crimea and also expressed concern that citizens of Ukraine in the Ukrainian territories which are currently occupied were given passports and allowed to vote. Stanton said that this ran counter to the spirit of the Minsk agreements.

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When asked if the EU will recognize the election results, Stano said that this was a national competence and up to individual member states, but added that it might be something that EU foreign affairs ministers discuss when they meet this evening in New York, where they are meeting for the UN General Assembly. EU High Representative Josep Borrell will be meeting again with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, at one of many bilateral meetings planned for this week.

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