EU and Russia: Triumph of the Weak Will

Here is an article Oksana Chelysheva sent me few days ago. How embarrassing it is for European people.

Stanislav Dmitrievsky, 06.09.2008 (translated from Russian and abridged)

Yesterday, I was asked to formulate my suggestions to European politicians who will take part in the next OSCE meeting on the human dimension. The question I was asked was: “What should European politicians do to defend civic society, civic and political activists in Russia?”

I find it very hard to formulate my recommendations. In response, I would like to pose my own question: “What are European politicians prepared to do? Is Europe prepared to give up some of its comfort for the sake of defending, –not just in words but in deed,– the great principles of freedom enshrined in its constitution?”

I have asked this question many times in recent years. There is no direct answer, yet it seems I know the answer. The latest EU resolution on the conflict between Russia and Georgia testifies that the current generation of European leaders lack not only the readiness to defend their declared “democratic values,” but also an elementary sense of self-preservation.

There is nothing but words. A mountain of words, with which Europe tries to hide its own fear of real action. A paralysis of responsibility. A triumph of the weak will.

The clever guys in the Kremlin are not in a hurry. Every time they tighten their stranglehold on freedom, they look at the West with a bashless question in their eyes: “Are you weak?” The response of the West is an endless, non-binding gabble of concern. The Kremlin is content: The “Free World,” with a mere wince, swallowed another bad apple from the KGB. After a while, the bait is set again. And yet again, the Kremlin asks, “Are you weak?”, and the West responds with an inarticulate cackle.

In the eight years since the KGB stopped licking its wounds and came out of its holes, no one has tried to stop it. The snake is slowly creeping into somebody else’s house. Yet the West still tries to convince itself that it is just a harmless black adder, which –albeit a wee inappropriate– is quite useful, and –God forbid!– should not be isolated.

Shortly before his death, [Soviet dissident and civic rights activist] Andrey Sakharov said: “My country needs support and pressure.” Since 1999, we have had neither. As a result, the West has lost almost all ways to influence the political hooligans in the Kremlin.

At the end of 1999, when the “Free World” naively asked, “Who is Mister Putin?”, the West had an ample of mechanisms to stop Russia’s plunge into authoritarianism and save the fragile flowers of democracy in Russia. Europe had not yet tied itself to Russian oil and gas supplies, and the war in Chechnya provided more than enough reason to condemn the reappearance of KGB rule.

“The total and wanton destruction of the city of Grozny, the most striking example of indiscriminate and disproportionate military action which has cost hundreds, if not thousands of civilian lives; continued attacks on the civilian population, ranging from the use of aerial bombardments and other heavy weaponry in densely populated areas to the committal of war crimes by federal troops, including the murder and rape of civilians.” These are not the words of Chechen separatists, but of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Recommendation 1456 (2000)).

Yet the victims of this barbarous war were forgotten. Instead, the “Free World” fed Chechnya to Putin, thinking naively that once he had quenched his thirst with Chechen blood, Putin would promote “democratic values” in other areas. Europe was deaf and blind in all ensuing years of this ignoble conflict. This is just one example:

In March 2001, a mass grave was found near the main military base of Russian federal forces in Chechnya in Khankala. More than 50 bodies were moved to the warehouse of the Ministry of Emergency Situations in Grozny. Most of the bodies found in the mass grave were, however, quickly reburied under a ton of dirt at the bottom of a deep pit.

Most of the victims had their hands tied behind their backs, their bodies bore signs of vicious torture and gunshot wounds. The identity of 26 bodies was recognised; all were those of civilians that had been detained at various times by Russian troops. Yet Europe closed its eyes to all these horrors, while at the same time raising scandal over similar crimes in Kosovo.

As hundreds of Chechens were looking for the remains of their loved ones in the half-destroyed warehouse of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Álvaro Gil-Robles, was visiting Grozny. He visited the military base in Khankala, just a few hundred meters from the mass grave. Yet he failed to visit the burial site and the warehouse, saying that he had “no qualification in forensic medicine.”

After the Commissioner left Grozny, Russian authorities quickly reburied all bodies that were unrecognised, thus destroying all evidence of crime. No forensic examination was carried out, and evidence was buried together with the bodies of the victims, both those who had been recognised by relatives and those that were reburied in an unnamed grave.

The West’s only response to this and similar tragedies was always mere “concern,” which the Kremlin –rightly so– interpreted, at best, as weakness or, at worst, as encouragement to new atrocities. After Chechnya, it was the turn of independent media, liquidation of Russia’s federal system of government, political assassinations, imitations of elections, elimination of political opposition, threats of redirecting missiles against Europe.

It was against this background that Russia was accepted into the elite club of G8. Even after the occupation of the territory of sovereign Georgia, nobody intends to demand Russia’s ouster.

If the leaders of democratic nations are unable to take decisive steps against obvious aggression, what steps can one expect them to take in defence of “civic society”? Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, Yuri Chervochkin, Magomed Yevloyev… They are all dead. I am fully aware that anyone of us, activists of the Russian opposition and human rights movement, may be next. There is nothing that can be done. Russian authorities do not give a damn about what others think and say about them, as long as these thoughts and words are not followed by any action.

Our lives and our liberty do not cost a penny in Russia, and there is no one able to defend us. Personally, I have come to accept this, and strive to continue my work in these conditions. No amount of “concern,” calls to “carry out an independent and impartial inquiry,” and other gullible silliness will change the situation. With its policy of appeasement in regard to Putin, the West has raised a monster over which it has no authority whatsoever. The West does not even want to gain any authority over him.

What should the Free World do in this situation, unless it wishes to end up as a hostage to the extortionists in the Kremlin? I must point out that the struggle for freedom and democracy in Russia, defence of civic society, and opposition to the Kremlin’s bullyish foreign policy are two sides of the same coin. The peoples of Russia and the West have a common enemy: the murderous and feckless regime of Putin and his minions.

In my opinion, the West needs to free itself of stereotypes that limit European policy in the post-Cold War period. The West has been complacent in relation to Russia. It is necessary to recognise the inefficiency of this policy and realise that the Kremlin is no longer ruled by the sweet Gorbie, nor the good-natured, slobbish Yeltsin, but by people who actually regard the West as their main enemy. That is how they were taught in the KGB, and there is no such thing as a former KGB agent.

Multinational institutions or at least individual states in the West need to compile a list of political prisoners in Russia and demand their immediate release. The West needs to condition its relations with Russia on the Kremlin’s observation of this demand. No more talk from Kremlin leaders about “meddling in Russia’s internal affairs;” the West needs to deliver an immediate and stiff rebuke. That would be the real “human dimension.”

If democratic states are not prepared to impose tough economic sanctions against Russia due to their impotence and reliance on Russian energy, the least the West can do is impose “surgical sanctions” against officials guilty of human rights violations and repression of civic society in Russia. There is a whole gamut of measures to defend the “human dimension.” The sanctions should include a ban on entry to countries of the Schengen zone and the United States, as well as freezing the assets of the officials and their relatives in foreign banks.

As a response to the killing of Magomed Yevloyev, Ingush President Murat Zyazikov and Interior Minister Musa Medov should be denied entry to Europe. As a response to the illegal and cruel repression of another March of Dissent in Moscow, the wife of the Mayor of Moscow, Yelena Baturina, one of the richest women in the world, should have her enormous assets in Europe frozen. Igor Falileyev, the judge who refused parole to Mikhail Khodorkovsky for failing to learn how to sew mittens in jail, should be barred entry to Europe until he repents publicly in front of the Supreme Court in Moscow.

There is an army of prosecutors, police officers, and correctional officers, let alone military officers responsible for the killing of thousands, against whom sanctions should be imposed. The sanctions should be imposed openly and demonstratively, following clear criteria. The West could establish multinational commissions to investigate gross violations of human rights. The commissions could look at human rights violations not only in Russia, but in countries like China, Turkmenistan, and Iran as well.

The leaders in the Kremlin will, of course, not sit on their hands. They will soon retaliate. This is where we come back to my main question: What is Europe prepared to sacrifice to defend its own ideals? I exhort you to act and not be afraid! In the long run, Putin and his pygmies cannot win the battle for freedom.

Unfortunately, all my hopes may turn out to be just the rosy dreams of a provincial Russian utopist. Putin and his henchmen will keep having tea with the Queen, the Dutch battalion will keep looking on at the destruction of Srebrenica, and the European Commissioner will keep lamenting for his lack of pathologicoanatomic expertees.

These scenes seem to symbolise current European policy. The sentences meted out on us, the deaths, the defaced cities, and the mass graves still fail to solicit nothing but the usual sounds of a disquietened henhouse. Please, I beg you to stop your ritual gestures and empty talk. The Kremlin is laughing at you. Words need to be followed by action. If you cannot act, you had better keep quiet. That would at least be more honest.

I recently received a message: “The European Parliament’s budgetary affairs committee proposed to freeze some 60.5 million euros in financial aid destined for Russia in 2009 under the neighbourhood policy, among other things, to support human rights groups and non-governmental organisations.”

Well done! First Putin declared human rights organisations to be the fifth column of the West and withdrew tax exemptions on grants from foreign funds. As a response to Russian policies in Georgia, the West decided to punish human rights activists. What a truly asymmetric response! Let me propose that the European Parliament demand that Russia double the sentence on Mikhail Khodorkovsky as a response to the crisis in Georgia. This will certainly be an effective measure; the Kremlin will not survive!

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