Russia can’t be considered strategic partner of EU anymore, MEPs say

Members of Parliament vote at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 13 March 2019. [EPA-EFE/PATRICK SEEGER]

The EU should be ready to impose further sanctions on Russia if the country continues to violate international law, EU lawmakers said in a resolution adopted in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday (12 March).

Passing with 402 votes in favour, 163 against and 89 abstentions, MEPs voted in favour of a resolution stating that Russia “can no longer be considered a ‘strategic partner’” and that “the EU cannot envisage a gradual return to ‘business as usual’ until Russia fully implements the Minsk Agreement and restores the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Actually, the EU dropped the ‘strategic partner’ label after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

EU to label Russia a 'strategic challenge'

Until the illegal annexation of Crimea, the European Union had labelled Russia its “strategic partner”. But in the new EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, which is expected to be unveiled at the end of June, the bloc will label Russia its “strategic challenge”, a diplomat said yesterday (30 May).

In the resolution, MEPs state that since 2015, new areas of tension between the EU and Russia have been created. The document includes a long list of actions taken by the Kremlin to break international law and human rights, naming Russia’s intervention in Syria or its interference in countries like Libya and the Central African Republic and continuous aggressive activities in Ukraine.

MEPs also draw attention to Russia’s support for anti-EU parties and extreme right-wing movements, as well as meddling in political elections and violations of human rights in their own country.

They are “deeply concerned about the links between the Russian government and the extreme right and populist nationalist parties and governments in the EU,” such as in Hungary and call for an “EU-wide mechanism allowing the screening of political parties’ funding,” and measures to be taken “to avoid some parties and movements being used to destabilise the European project from within.”

“The time for nice and diplomatic language is over. There is very little room for any cooperation as long as Russia continues to occupy parts of Ukraine and attacks other European countries”, Latvian MEP Sandra Kalniete (EPP), rapporteur for the report on the state of play in EU-Russia political relations, said on Tuesday.

The resolution “reiterates that Russia has no right of veto over the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of European nations” and “calls on the Russian authorities to condemn communism and the Soviet regime, and to punish the perpetrators of the crimes and offences committed under that regime.”

It also condemns Russian militarisation of the Azov Sea, the Black Sea region and the Kaliningrad region, as well as the repeated violation of territorial waters of European countries in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic.

“I think the European Parliament is quite consistent in this matter,” Polish MEP Anna Fotyga (ECR), who was the shadow rapporteur and author of the amendment, said after the vote.

“Central and Eastern European countries that have a great deal of knowledge about the methods of action of the Russian Federation have warned much earlier, but until the annexation of Crimea and military operations in eastern Ukraine, Western Europe was not fully aware of this. I think that sobering did come after the annexation of the Crimea,” she added.

In the adopted text, MEPs also stress that the EU should be ready to accept further sanctions against Russia, especially those targeted at specific people. In their opinion, the sanctions should be “proportional to the threats posed by Russia.”

The report also calls on EU member states which have been under scrutiny for selling visas and citizenship to wealthy foreigners in the so-called “golden-visa/passport” programmes to abandon those practices as there are concerns “over the potentially hundreds of billions of euros being laundered through the EU every year by Russian companies and individuals looking to legitimise the proceeds of corruption”.

The Parliament also expressed concerns about the Nord Stream 2 project, noting that the gas pipeline from Russia to Germany across the Baltic Sea could increase the bloc’s dependence on Russian gas supplies and threaten the Union’s internal market.

Finally, MEPs urge the EU to adopt a European version of the so-called Magnitsky Act, a bi-partisan legislation passed by the US Congress in 2012 meant to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009.

MEPs adopt ‘Magnitsky’ list visa ban

The European Parliament passed a resolution yesterday (2 April) establishing a list of Russian officials responsible for the death of a Russian attorney in prison. The ‘Magnitsky List” proposes an EU-wide visa ban and a freeze of EU assets of 32 Russian citizens.

Since 2016, the bill, which applies globally, authorises the US government to sanction those it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the United States.

An amendment supported by Greens, S&D and ALDE calling for the resumption of the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee failed with a narrow amount of votes. Its work had been suspended after the annexation of Crimea.

Commenting the European Parliament resolution, Sebastian Sass, EU Representative of Nord Stream 2, sent a written position:

“We take note that the European Parliament today adopted a non-binding political resolution on the state of EU-Russia relations. It includes over 50 paragraphs on various elements of this relationship, one of which makes reference to Nord Stream 2. Irrespective of political declarations, the implementation of Nord Stream 2 is governed by a binding legal framework that has also been shaped by the European Parliament; the legal framework consists of EU law, international conventions and national legislation of the countries along the planned route. All works are determined by valid permits from the competent authorities of the EU member states along the route of the pipeline. Nord Stream 2 complies with this binding legal framework.

The non-binding political resolution on the state of EU-Russia relations by the European Parliament does not change the legal framework governing the implementation of Nord Stream 2. Nord Stream 2 will make a positive contribution to the Energy Union objectives by securing an additional route of gas supply for the import of additional volumes. Europe’s gas demand outlook makes a compelling case for this investment which is fully compatible with the continued imports of gas through existing routes.”

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