Brussels/Moscow, 20 December – In the run-up to EU-Russia summit to be held on Friday 21 December, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum held in Brussels a series of meetings with EU’s foreign policy officials. Russian side was equally approached for meetings – with no response.
“The recent series of repressive laws are no coincidence or temporary distraction from Russia’s political course, on the contrary, they represent a new systemic shift in Russia’s internal policy towards more authoritarianism that the EU will need to deal with. There is no chance for business as usual,” says Yuri Dzhibladze, Steering Committee member of EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.
Over the past six months, Russia introduced restrictions on public assemblies, curbed free speech in internet, introduced high treason for talking to foreign governments or international organizations and obliged NGOs with foreign funding to register as “foreign agents”. The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum put forward a number of specific policy recommendations on human rights, environment, transparency, visa issues or North Caucasus urging the EU to request from Russia that the recent repressive legislation be repealed or amended.
“If Russian NGOs or analysts are now liable for high treason for meeting an international organisations or institutions, this undermines the very way the international cooperation works, with NGO consultations a natural part of policy debate. The EU must make it clear on the very highest level that this or other recent pieces of legislation are unacceptable,” says Stefan Melle, Steering Committee member of EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.
In addition, the Forum requested that the EU stand up publicly during summit for Russia’s vibrant civil society especially when smear campaigns are now waged in Russia against NGOs as “foreign agents” or civic activists accused of being “on payroll of CIA”.
“In this new situation, the EU itself needs to stick closer together and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who genuinely share its values. If the USAID is kicked out of Russia on false pretence, if Swedish diplomats in Moscow are attacked through media smear campaign, there should be quick and clear public expression of solidarity from the entire EU. Will there be some after this new anti-Magnitsky bill is passed?” asks Rostislav Valvoda, Steering Committee member of EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.
The Forum also urged for more transparency about existing EU-Russia dialogues on environment, visas and other areas requesting, for instance, publication of Common Steps on visa policy. The EU claims a new negotiated agreement aimed at easing visa procedures for citizens of both sides could be signed immediately unless Russia insisted on including visa-free travel for Russia’s service passport holders, a provision the EU says is unacceptable.
EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is an independent platform of about 100 NGOs from both the EU and Russia focusing on human rights, the environment, civic participation and democratic processes which was established in March 2011. For more detail see: www.eu-russia-csf.org.
For more information:
Yuri Dzhibladze +7 916 673 51 53