Russian democratic opposition leader and former deputy prime-minister Boris Nemtsov today met with members of the European Parliament and spoke at a press conference organised by the Greens/EFA group. The meeting took place ahead of an official visit by Russian prime-minister Vladimir Putin to Brussels next week (24 February). The press conference focused on the need for the EU to do more to promote democracy, pluralism and fair elections in Russia, with elections coming up in 2011 and 2012.[:]
Speaking at the press conference, Boris Nemtsov highlighted problems with democracy and the rule of law in Russia. In the context of the upcoming elections, he expressed concerns about the prospect of unfair elections and pointed to the multitude of possibilities for the authorities to restrict opposition parties and their participation in elections (notably rules on the registration of parties). Mr Nemtsov urged the EU to engage in long-term monitoring, well in advance of the elections, to ensure that the conditions are in place for truly free and fair elections, with the participation of all opposition parties.
After the press conference, Green MEPs Heidi Hautala (chair of the EP subcommittee on human rights) and Werner Schulz (vice-chair of the parliamentary cooperation committee EU-Russia) said:
“There are real concerns about the tendency of EU leaders to play down concerns about human rights or democratic restrictions in their dealings with trading partners. Next week’s meeting between Commission president Barroso and Russian prime-minister Putin is likely to be a case in point. We cannot put gas pipelines ahead of fundamental rights.
“The EU needs to do all within its power to support the democratic opposition in Russia and to push for free and fair elections in Russia. EU leaders, like high representative Ashton and Commission president Barroso, should not shy away from meeting Russian opposition leaders for fear of ruffling feathers in the Kremlin. A strong and vibrant democracy in Russia is in the interests of the Russian people and the EU, and this should be a key focus of our relations with Russia.
“We also call on the EU to engage in early and long-term monitoring in Russia with a view to ensuring truly fair elections in which all parties are able to participate. Freedom of assembly and free media must be also be guaranteed, and the politically motivated use of the judiciary be brought to an end.”
* The European Parliament will adopt a resolution on the rule of law in Russia at its plenary session tomorrow.