Is Europe with Russia or with Putin?

The task of restoring democracy and safeguarding human rights in Russia is a task for Russian citizens and no one else. But it would help if our friends and neighbors in Europe stopped, in effect, supporting Vladimir Putin’s regime by lending it international credibility and allowing its crooked officials access to the European banking system. This was the essence of the arguments put forward by a delegation of Russian opposition members—including the author of this blog—invited to address a European Parliament hearing in Brussels earlier this week.

For all his brazen anti-Western rhetoric, Putin would like nothing more than for the elected Western leaders to join him on the Olympic stands in Sochi in four months’ time—a confirmation of his regime’s legitimacy, prestige, and status as an accepted equal on the world stage. Indeed, it is precisely for the reasons of prestige and legitimacy, not sport, that the Sochi Olympics are so important to Vladimir Putin. The message from the Russian participants at the hearing—as well as from the host, Polish MEP Marek Migalski, who initiated the campaign for a political boycott of Putin’s Olympics—was that EU leaders should not pander to the Kremlin, or, at the very least, condition their participation on meaningful reciprocal steps, such as the release of political prisoners.

Another focus of discussion was the urgent need for a European Magnitsky Act, modeled on the 2012 US law that banned Russian officials implicated in corruption and human rights abuses from traveling to and owning assets in America. Those who violate the rights of and steal money from Russian citizens should not be entitled to the privileges and the comfort of the Western world for themselves and their families. The double standard of those who choose to rule in the Soviet style but own homes and bank accounts in the democratic West must come to an end. Only fear of personal consequences, not references to Russia’s international human rights obligations under the Council of Europe and the OSCE, can change the behavior of corrupt and abusive officials—so that next time they would think twice before beating another protester, torturing another prisoner, harassing another journalist, or rigging another election.

Both the call to EU leaders to stay away from Putin’s Olympics and a list of Russian human rights abusers who should be blacklisted from the European Union are expected to be included in the resolution on Russia that will be debated by Europe’s highest legislative body at the end of this year. Its passage will be bad news for the Kremlin—and a welcome sign for all those in Russia who want a European and democratic future for their country.

Photo Credit: www.kremlin.ru.

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