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”Very seriously concerned” about Russia

The European Union is getting tough on Russia. Photo: EEAS/Flickr

The recent set of steps taken by the Russian government sets the country on the wrong path, and wastes the opportunity for effective modernization and democratic development, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton says.

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With strong words and almost without diplomatic wrapping, the EU foreign policy chief yesterday spoke up about developments in Russia. In a speech to the European Parliament, Ashton said that “we have been seeing less and less dialogue and openness on the side of the [Russian] authorities, and rather more intolerance of any expression of dissenting views”. She added that “instead of stronger safeguards for the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms, we have seen a string of measures all chipping away at them.”

“This constitutes a trend that is of very serious concern to the European Union”, she concluded.

As previously reported, Catherine Ashton also in early June this year issued a statement where she expressed concerns about amendments to the Russian NGO law

Ashton told the European Parliament that the new Russian legislation limiting the freedom of assembly, restricting NGOs, curtailing the freedom of the internet, the Pussy Riot case, as well as an upsurge in prosecution of opposition activists “seems to have their common aim to further reduce the available space for independent civil and political activity in the country”.

The European Commission sees grassroots civil society movements, be it human rights NGOs or election monitoring organisations such as Golos, as important components of democratic societies and of paramount significance to Russia’s modernization.

Catherine Ashton confirmed that the EU, despite the new law labeling foreign project support recipients as “foreign agents”, will continue to support several Russian NGOs and their activities. “We do so because the EU has a strong interest in a stable, prosperous and democratic Russia, and we have been offering our full support to all those in Russia who share this goal”, she stressed.

“They do an essential job in Russia today, key to Russia’s modernization”, she underlined.

The speech by Catherine Ashton sends the strongest signal so far to Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin about the EU’s discomfort with current Russian political developments.

Earlier, several European state representatives have in negative turns commented on political trends in Russia. Among them is Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre who in a recent parliament session said that “we see a row of negative developments in the field of human rights after the instatement of the new president and new government this spring”. Støre after the announcement of the verdict against the Pussy Riot representatives said that “the judgment is out of step with the fundamental right of freedom of expression and the right to engage in alternative forms of expression, and is a breach of clear European norms.” 

Also Finnish leaders have expressed concern. Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja says developments in Russia include “features that are a cause for concern”.