Once a year, the EU presidency and I meet with the Russian ministers of interior and justice for talks and deliberations on issues of mutual interest. These issues include cooperation against organized crime, especially trafficking in drugs and human beings, and terrorism. We also talk about migration, rule of law, corruption and visa issues. In recent years I have also made sure that human rights have been put on the agenda. This year’s meeting was held together with the Greek ministers, as well as the Italian Minister of Justice, since Italy is the incoming presidency after Greece.
We met in a cold and snowy Moscow, with the background setting of the current tense relations between the EU and Russia. We had an open exchange of views, but did not really make any progress in our cooperation. For a long time, we have been negotiating essential areas for moving towards a visa free regime with the EU and we should soon be able to agree on further measures to facilitate travelling to the EU for Russian citizens. To entirely abolish the visa requirement is a mutual aim, but a lot of work is yet to be done on the Russian side before this can become a reality. The remaining issues concern, for example, anti-corruption policy, document security, asylum issues and fighting discrimination and xenophobia.
The discussion on human rights took the most time. We are deeply concerned about the situation in Russia with regards to human rights. There are several examples of this situation, such as the new law requiring NGOs to register as “foreign agents”, the law banning homosexual “propaganda”, problems with the rule of law and arbitrary judicial processes, and court rulings against the opposition. I also brought up the Magnitsky case and repeated the demand for an independent investigation on the circumstances of his death.
Yesterday, I had dinner with a large number of representatives of various NGOs, who expressed their concerns about the new legislation and the risk of a significant weakening of the civil society in the country.
Today started with a media breakfast together with Björn van Roozendaal from ILGA-Europe in Brussels and Igor Kochetkov, president of the Russian LGBT network. We talked about Russia’s human rights situation in general and the situation for LGBT people in particular. They are worried about the new legislation in itself, but also about the general stigmatization of LGBT persons that it leads to. There is an alarming increase of violence and harassment against gay people, something that is being legitimized by the regime as they brand homosexuality as something abnormal and dangerous to children.
At the press breakfast, ILGA-Europe’s latest report was also presented. More on Russia here.