Europe must act against Russian killings – POLITICO
Nicolas Tenzer is a French foreign policy analyst and visiting professor at Sciences Po Paris.
Even for spies, murder is not normal. For example, last month Czech officials expelled 18 Russian diplomats after linking Russian military intelligence to a 2014 bombing of an arms depot in Vrěbtice that killed two Czech citizens.
As relations between Prague and Moscow have crumbled, Bulgarian officials have unveiled their own investigation into four surprisingly similar bombings of ammunition dumps over the past decade – and have also turned squarely to Moscow.
Investigators in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria have focused on a Russian military intelligence group that appears to work within EU borders, but outside unspoken standards of espionage, including a series of very publicized. Yet the EU has been indecisive and even weak in its response to these crimes. A stronger European response is needed, not only to guarantee the security of Europe, but also to defend the democratic values on which Europe was founded.
Concern over Russian military intelligence links to several high-profile murders dates back to the assassination of Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with radioactive polonium in London in 2006. Czech officials are also seeking a link to the attempted murder. assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter. in 2018 it claimed the life of a UK citizen. Chechen dissidents died under mysterious circumstances in Vienna in 2009, Berlin in 2019 and Lille, France, last year (as well as in Ukraine and Turkey).
Slovakia, Romania and the Baltic states immediately backed Prague by expelling Russian diplomats from their own capitals, albeit in limited numbers. Other EU and NATO countries, however, issued only strongly worded statements. Neither the EU nor the United States seem ready to go much further yet.
One hundred and fifty-two Russian diplomats have been sent home since 2017 in response to Russian activity in Europe. Their absence surely reduces the influence of Russia in European capitals. But expelling diplomats is primarily a messaging exercise, not an action in itself. This will not end Russia’s efforts to destabilize Europe.
The division in Europe on projects like the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has further complicated the chances of a strong and united response to Russian intelligence activities. In addition to the economic sanctions following the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Donbass, as well as the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, the measures remained limited in scope, even if they were marked by a more furious tone. It is as if some people in Europe still want to spare the Kremlin, although they have no hope of changing the behavior of the Russian regime.
A list of 35 names of oligarchs and people from Putin’s inner circle proposed for sanctions by Vladimir Ashurkov, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, organization of jailed dissident Alexei Navalny, received a warm welcome from the EU and US. Freezing assets and imposing a travel ban on these 35 Putin intimates – without even starting to talk about blocking their access to Swift, the banking protocol they need to transfer money to Europe – reportedly had an immediate impact in Moscow.
A weak response to interference on European territory only encourages the regime inside Russia. Why should Putin show restraint at home, when anti-democratic actions in Europe – even bombings and murders – produce few serious sanctions? A criminal regime will continue to commit crimes if no one resists it, or out of ignorance and fear the rhetoric is only to keep the dialogue going, which we believe will not work.
Meanwhile, the inner circle of the Kremlin continues to launch intimidation operations with impunity in Europe. In April, Russian state oil company Rosnef and three oligarchs sued journalist Catherine Belton and Belton publisher HarperCollins for libel and data protection breaches, following the publication of Belton’s briefing on the Russian establishment, “the people of Putin”. The case is ongoing.
A month earlier Roman Abramovich, owner of London football club Chelsea, sued the publisher of the book for what he described as “false and defamatory»Statements on his acquisition of the club. His spokesperson says the action is independent other legal actions. There is no indication that Abramovich is part of any Kremlin intimidation operation.
The Czech and Bulgarian revelations of the Kremlin’s actions come at a time when most countries realized that Putin’s regime posed Europe’s most immediate threat. Despite the agreed rhetoric calling on Russia to change its behavior, both externally and internally, a majority of European leaders see Russia’s challenge as destined to continue.
The illusory attempts to reconnect with Putin’s regime are brain dead – it’s about time. In attacking Russia for the bombings and murders in Europe, the governments of the Czech Republic and Bulgaria are doing the right thing. The rest of Europe should follow them.
The warning was given a long time ago, with the regime’s crimes in Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine and Syria. Those, even of lesser intensity, undertaken on European soil, are only an extension of it. They are the consequence of our inaction and our loss of awareness of what they mean. Crimes, including war crimes punishable by the International Criminal Court, must be designated as such. They cannot be considered business as usual.
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correct the the Czech Republic expelled Russian diplomats. It has also been updated to include a statement from spokesman Roman Abramovich that his lawsuit is independent of other lawsuits.