The European Union has decided to impose Magnitsky type sanctions prejudicing the assets and travel rights of Russian police and legal officials responsible for the imprisonment of anti-corruption fighter Alexei Navalny. Russian officials outwardly responded with indignation at the EU imposed sanctions on Russia, but a conservative and liberal columnist effectively agreed that Russia was not really perturbed about them. Political scientist Gevorg Mizaryan claimed EU policy towards Russia was in limbo. The EU would not pass crippling economic sanctions because that would be shooting itself in the foot, but it could not desist from sanctions in order to preserve the façade of unity and placate Russophobic countries such as Poland as well as the United States. Rosbalt’s senior columnist Alexander Zhelenin believes that the sanctions are ineffectual because the regime treats relations with European institutions as ornamental, and if Russia under Putin was once willing to pay a price for membership in the Council of Europe it no longer feels that way. The Navalny case has shown that the regime’s paramount goal is to ensure its survival and it is willing to retrogress even to the isolation of the Iron Curtain era to secure that goal.
Zakaharova: EU Allows Itself To Be Humiliated By US
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova blamed the sanctions on the EU’s prostration before Washington: “We can see that the European Union, a significant part of Europe, is being humiliated. By whom? By those who impose their interests on others, which run counter to the national interests of those nations. <…> By those who pursue a certain policy, which is being foisted on the European Union primarily by Washington,” she noted.
“EU countries don’t benefit from it; we don’t benefit from it either because the European Union used to be our biggest trade partner, our partner in terms of humanitarian ties and energy partner. Moreover, we used to build relations for the sake of the future. These relations were supposed to be even more meaningful and important.”
Leonid Slutsky, Chairman of the Duma Committee on International Affairs warned of retaliation: “The EU sanctions in connection to Navalny’s case, will be another step towards the degradation of relations with Moscow. I am sure that another sanctions attack won’t go unanswered by Russia.”
Political science professor Gevorg Mirzayan, in an article for Vz.ru, argued that the sanctions mountain had been revealed as a molehill, and Russia must not retreat before the threat of sanctions because that would only invite further sanctions pressure. He wrote:
“In the coming days the European Union will introduce new sanctions against the Russian Federation, this time in conjunction with the ‘Navalny case’.
“Over the past weeks, certain ‘comrades’ (both Russians as well as EU representatives), who are not our comrades, were frightening Moscow that Brussels’s patience has run out. They claimed that the European Union is ready to introduce real, ‘adult’ sanctions that will deliver a serious hit to the Russian economy. This would include a halt to the construction of the Nord Stream 2 [gas pipeline from Russia to Germany].
“However, in reality, everything turned out to be much simpler. The Western media (for example, the Bloomberg agency) wrote with regret that concerning the introduction of serious sanctions against Russian business and the economy ‘there was no harmony among the European comrades.’ And the personal appeal by Navalny’s supporters to impose restrictions on a number of the country’s oligarchs did not melt the hearts of European bureaucrats. This is due to the refusal by a series of EU countries to burn bridges with Russia.
“The Bloomberg agency provided a geopolitical reasoning. Allegedly the deterioration of relations between the EU and the Russian Federation will only lead to an increase of China’s influence in Russia.”
Europe Was Deterred By Lavrov’s Warning; It Needs Russia More Than Russia Needs Europe
“Yet there is another geopolitical explanation. The European Union has heard [Russian foreign minister] Sergei Lavrov’s ultimatum and did not want Moscow to completely sever relations with it. Because, in this case, the European Union (no matter how ridiculous it may seem) will be plunged into isolation.
“Without interaction with Russia, Brussels won’t be able to defend its interests either in Syria, or in the Caucasus, and even in Ukraine. Europe will lose it geopolitical agency (the belief that the EU’s agency will be considered by the United States survived only among the most “notorious” optimists and Atlanticists).
“There is also a political explanation. Russia’s banishment from the Council of Europe and other pan-European structures will deprive the European elites of the opportunity to influence Russian interior policy via human rights protection mechanisms.
“And finally, there is the economic rationale. For example, the closure of Nord Stream 2 construction will not only damage Russia (and not that much actually), but the interests of the EU itself. Because, it will deprive Europe of secure supplies of cheap gas, and will also lead to the need to pay billions of euros in fines.
“Thus the Europeans decided to play it smart and focused only on sanctions against ‘persons involved in actions against Alexei Navalny’. Now the EU member states will compile the lists of such persons, and later they will harmonize them and announce the imposition of sanctions. The result, as usual, is that a ruble’s worth of backswing results in a kopek’s worth of damage.
“Unfortunately, the Europe’s reasonability ends here: [the West] shows no willingness to get off this crazy sanctions carousel.
“Seemingly by now, it should be clear to everyone that ‘sanctions against Moscow do not work’. The Kremlin is not going to change its foreign and domestic policy and will not abandon its own vision of national interests.
“This means that the only option for the EU to influence the Kremlin is an analogue of the ‘Sunshine Policy’ (a Korean expression, meaning, that the heat radiating from one of the players compels the other to shed his armor). That is [the EU needs] a normalization of Russian-European relations, the restoration of normal trade and investment, which will lead to the growth of the Russian middle class and, consequently, to strengthening the positions of Russian liberals.
“However, Brussels is unable to follow this simple strategy. And not because the EU needs a consensus to make decisions. The consensus is not needed in this case. In order to avoid introducing new sanctions against the Russian Federation or extending the previously imposed ones (for Crimea and Donbass), only a single European vote against will suffice.
“The fact is that European leaders (for example the very same Germany) are afraid to cast this vote. Because, in this case, even the apparition of European unity will disappear. A number of countries (for example Poland) will go into hysterics, indignant and claim that the EU ‘betrayed Ukraine and the entire Western world’, and ‘capitulated to Putin’. Also (and this perhaps is the main reason) the United States will be displeased.
“Despite the fact that Joe Biden designated China as the United States’ main rival, no one canceled the task of containing Moscow ‘on all fronts’. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, the American president proclaimed “America’s return to Europe’. He also accused Russia of attempts to weaken transatlantic ties and added that part of the framework for strengthening these ties was ‘upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity remains vital for Europe and the United States,” Translated into plain Russian, this means that a European country, which dares abandoning the sanctions policy will be declared an enemy of the liberal world with all the ensuing consequences.”
“They [The West] Will Come Up With A Pretext
“In turn, Russia is unable to provide help to the EU to dismount from this carousel. Yes, some of our native non-comrades write that the Kremlin should act prudently to avoid providing pretexts for the imposition of sanctions… However, Russia does exactly that. For several years Moscow has not done anything that could allow them to impose sanctions against us.
“Russia doesn’t annex Donbass, doesn’t close anti-state media (best regards to say to Ukraine). Russia does not unilaterally abandon strategic agreements (hello United States!). Russia does not interfere in European or American elections and in general in the West’s internal political affairs (unlike Western countries, which interfere in Russian affairs).
“However, nobody cares about Russia’s prudent behavior – if no reason for sanctions exists, then one must be invented. For example, talk about the next intervention of the Russian Federation in the internal affairs of the United States or arrange a scam called ‘the poisoning of Navalny by Novichok.’ That, in fact, is what’s being done – and then exploited to continue the senseless sanctions policy.
“Thus, Moscow has only one way out- to continue to behave reasonably, but simultaneously do nothing – absolutely nothing in terms of concessions to the West for the sake of sanctions ‘alleviation’ or ‘withholding’.
“Because, if today, for example, one will follow the advice of fools, collaborators and hysterics who say, “Free Navalny and save Nord Stream 2,” this will only intensify the sanctions. The EU will understand that the sanctions are working, that Russia is retreating. Thus, Brussels might think, it is necessary and possible to raise the bar of sanctions pressure. And in this case, we will see not personal, but [sectoral] economic sanctions.”
Zhelenin: Putin Signaled Already That He Would Not Back Down
Alexander Zhelenin in an article for Rosbalt media titled “The Kremlin Decreasingly Needs Decorations” also believes that the sanctions will have no effect. Putin has already discounted them in advance and the regime’s overarching goal is to ensure its own survival. If it means a break with Europe, so be it. He wrote:
“Contemporary Russia (not in the sense of a country, but a state apparatus) will easily exit the Council of Europe if only to avoid freeing Alexei Navalny from prison. This is, as the saying goes, you can bet your socks on. Vladimir Putin spoke about the possibility of such a measure back in 2019, that is, a year before the resetting of his presidential terms and before an article on the priority of Russian laws over international law was introduced to the Constitution in 2020.
“Considering the state of relations between Moscow and Europe, due to the persecution of Navalny and the recent crackdown on mass protests in Russia, such a development is quite likely.
“Before trying to forecast what Russian citizens will face as a result of Russia’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe citizens, let us recall some facts.
“Firstly, what is the Council of Europe? For the majority of Russians who hardly know how it differs from the European Union, let’s explain that, unlike the latter, which is the legal political and economic union of 27 European countries, the Council of Europe is an international organization dedicated to [the protection of] human rights, the development of democracy and other things that are rather ephemeral for the modern Russian elite.
“Russia (at least for now) is a member of the Council of Europe and even ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1998, which gives our citizens the right to apply to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). This opportunity was recently used by Alexei Navalny.
“Secondly, on February 16 of 2021, the ECHR, after examining the circumstances of the arrest of the opposition politician, in accordance with Rule 39 of the Court regulations, ordered Navalny’s release. The rationale behind this European Court decision, as stated in its definition, considered ‘the nature and degree of risk to the appellant’s life, which was demonstrated prima facie (as fact)”.
“Let’s recall once again that Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe, has ratified its fundamental Convention on Human Rights, and therefore must comply with the ECHR decision. It should be noted that Russia usually complies with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.”
On Navalny, Russia Puts Its Foot Down
“However, not this time. Moscow’s response, as expected, was prompt, categorical and negative. The head of the of the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Justice, Konstantin Chuichenko, made it clear that the ECHR’s demand to release Navalny from custody is “most impracticable’ and, naturally, contradicts our sovereign legislation (let’s again recall the Constitution of the Russian Federation updated in 2020). Thus, the Saturday decision of the Moscow City Court, which ignored the ECHR’s demands and confirmed the verdict on Navalny, was actually predetermined.
“It is also obvious that paying compensation for moral damage to former prisoners under the ECHR’s decision is not the same as releasing a dangerous (according to the Kremlin) oppositionist from prison on the eve of elections to the State Duma.
“Furthermore, literally the day preceding his statement about “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” [Navalny], Mr. Chuichenko met, according to his ministry’s official website, ‘with a delegation of of Council of Europe representatives, headed by the Director General of Human Rights and Rule of Law Christos Giakoumopoulos”.
“During the usual “productive discussion” the Russian side (that is, Chuichenko) ‘informed the European partners about the measures undertaken to further improve human rights mechanisms at the national level’ …
“So, what’s next? Russia can be suspended from the Council of Europe [CE]. However, they might just issue a traditional statement of condemnation, to which (there is no doubt of this) Moscow will respond with a dozen no less decisive counter-attacks. After that the next part of the [scripted] Ballet de la Merlaison with the Council of Europe (and Europe as a whole) will be completed. But let’s consider the harshest scenario, namely the Russian Federation’s suspension from the CE. One doesn’t need a colorful imagination to predict what would happen if things actually go south.
“If Russia’s banishment from the Council of Europe becomes unavoidable, Moscow might once again hasten to anticipate its clumsy Western ‘partners’ and, probably, will be successful. Democracies have their disputes and disagreements, but in autocracies decisions are made quickly, because there is no one in particular to reach agreement with.
“That is, while the Council of Europe will prepare to expel Russia from this international organization, Moscow will be the first to get out. To go out with a bang with the words ‘since your this way with us, we don’t even want to know of you” is of course, more effective than the disgrace of being expelled from a respected international organization, which even includes such not so democratic countries, such as Turkey and Azerbaijan.
“Russia’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe is a quite real possibility, because the main goal and task of the Russian political regime is its survival. The regime has basically acted for some time as a besieged fortress (I apologize for the cliché). All its actions are devoted to the goal of its own survival.
“For the Kremlin, the country’s membership in the CE is nothing more than one of the democratic decorations, which for a while allowed it to fool naive Europeans, to systematically send them various, confusing signals that gave them hope, “maybe the people behind the Kremlin’s wall will come to their senses change their minds and become more mannerly, more humane …”
“However, if the decorations are not needed, then one can simply throw them away. What will be the consequences of Russia’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe for Russian citizens, apart from the fact that they will no longer be able to sue their state at the European Court?
“One of the main dangers is the possibility that the moratorium on the death penalty in Russia may be abrogated. However, in my opinion, this is unlikely. This moratorium was adopted at the time by the ruling Russian elite not out of humane considerations, but out of selfish interests.
“If one were to look closely, many of Putin’s future-oriented initiatives have an ultimate goal of excluding even hints of attacks on his calm retirement. Hence, the guarantees of immunity to former presidents were adopted in the form of a federal law in the early 2000s and were enshrined in 2020 in the updated Constitution.
“I believe that for the same exact reason, Putin won’t lift the moratorium on the death penalty. Moreover, I do not exclude the possibility that in 15 years the abolition of the death penalty in Russia will be stated in some new law or another amendment to the Constitution. Putin also does not need the death penalty as a means of fighting his opponents. Even without it, he already has many formal and informal mechanisms for this purpose.
“There is also the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), from which the Russian delegation is constantly expelled or allowed back in. Yes, the loss of the opportunity to travel to meetings in Strasbourg will certainly upset our deputies, however they are unlikely to publicly admit this fact.
“Thus, the most important consequence of our country’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe (as in general a “rupture with the West”) will be not the lost opportunity to access certain European legal and diplomatic mechanisms, but an even greater hardening of domestic policy and the policy of self-isolation. Back to ‘Iron Curtain’ times.”