EPP leader calls for ‘political boycott’ of the Sochi games

  

Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a vice-president of the European People's Party and president of the EPP group in the European Parliament, has called for a “political boycott” of the Sochi Olympics.

In an exclusive interview with EurActiv, Saryusz-Wolski said that since Russiaviolates so many rules and principles of international relations”, it should not be honoured by the presence of top politicians, planning to attend the Sochi games.

“They don’t have to go there, and they should not go there out of their own will. Sports events, fine, but no political tribute,” the prominent Polish MEP said.

Poland, which co-hosted the UEFA European Championship with Ukraine in 2012, at that time resisted calls for a political boycott of the football championship, over the fate of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The president, Bronisław Komorowski, said that a boycott was an inappropriate response to the situation in Ukraine and himself attended the final match in Kyiv.

The Sochi Winter Olympics are scheduled to take place from 6 to 23 February in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. In the run-up to the Sochi games a number of controversies broke out, including allegations of corruption leading to the severe cost overruns, along with concerns from politicians and athletes over the effects of Russia's ban on "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" during the Games.

US President Barack Obama and his vice-president, Joe Biden, are not planning to attend the 2014 Winter Olympics, joining Canadian premier Stephen Harper, French President François Hollande, his German counterpart, Joachim Gauck, and other western leaders in an apparent symbolic boycott over Russia's treatment of LGBT people.

So far only Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, an outspoken critic of the Russian government, has openly said that she is boycotting the games for political reasons. And Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding said that she would not go to Sochi “as long as minorities are treated the way they are under the current Russian legislation".

No official EU position to boycott the games has been taken and the issue has reportedly not been debated at the recent EU summit on 19-20 December. Moreover, a EU-Russia summit is expected to be held on 28 January in Brussels, and many EU diplomats convey the message that relations between Moscow and Brussels remain “business as usual” in spite of difficult dossiers such as trade, energy or neighbourhood relations.

Yesterday (15 January), Bulgarian Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski said he would attend the Sochi games, adding that as a small country Bulgaria could not afford to be as firm as larger EU states. Bulgaria is heavily dependent of Russian energy supplies and has legal problems with Moscow concerning a shelved nuclear power plant project.

The country also risks trial on the issue of the planned South Stream gas pipeline if it fails to fulfill its obligations towards Russia under a bilateral contract which the Commission wants denounced or re-negotiated.

Some EU countries deplore the lack of assertiveness of Brussels and their diplomats have criticised recent decisions. In particular, the appointment of the Social Democrat politician Gernot Erler as special coordinator of the German government for its Russian policy is seen as a sign that Berlin will be more “pragmatic” rather than “value-oriented” towards Moscow.

Saryusz-Wolski also spoke in critical terms regarding the regular EU-Russia summits, which are held twice a year. He said that commentators such as Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Lilia Shevtsova say that these EU-Russia summits are “useless”, “because they don’t bring any results and they should not be continued, and work should be done on a technical level”.

Asked to comment the fact that there is no call at the EU level for cancelling the 28 January summit, Saryusz-Wolski said: “Indeed, … politicians are not eager to give up such meetings at the top level. Although nobody will deny that these top level talks since some time now bring no results.”

To read the full interview, please click here.

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