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MEP Andrius Kubilius: “Ukraine Also Inspired Protests in Russia”

Andrus Kubilius

The EU needs to make its sanctions mechanism much more effective to help defend human rights and democracy in Belarus and Russia or other countries where people are fighting with very brutal authoritarian regimes, said Andrius Kubilius, Lithuanian MEP, Co-President of the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly, Standing Rapporteur on Russia. He told Promote Ukraine that the EU should have much more centralised power to introduce and to implement sanctions and that protests in Russia were inspired not only from Belarus but also from Ukraine.

New sanctions against officials in Belarus or Russia who suppress peaceful demonstrations should be initiated by EU member states. Is it a big obstacle?

First of all, I would like to use this opportunity to say that Ukrainian leadership showed a really good example of how to implement sanctions even inside: to all these TV channels owned by Medvedchuk. I was very positively surprised by that decision. Second point: just a couple of days ago we had an online conference between Russians, Belarusians and the European Parliament. It was an interesting discussion where Russian participants were learning from Belarusian ones how to make protest movements. But we were learning also from the developments in Belarus that our ability inside of the EU, inside of the European Parliament really to assist Belarusian people to defend their right for democracy, is still quite limited. And that’s where we are always very frustrated: we are not able to implement sanctions in a more effective way.

However, there are some positive developments: the EU has the so-called European Magnitsky act on sanctions, but when we started to look more deeply now, things are going calm with the decision-making on sanctions, for example, because of the Navalny arrest or whatever. So, we see a lot of quite big shortcomings which we need to change the situation, which we need to overcome now. And I think we need to have much more centralised power in the EU to introduce and to implement sanctions. Now, everything depends on member states, not only that there is a need of agreement on sanctions, but even the beginning, the start of the introduction of sanctions depends only on the will of individual member states. Then, the member states need to prepare all the papers, with all the information, all the evidence that really those people are guilty because of human rights violations and so on. And I think this is not the most effective way really to make sanctions much more effective. So, besides Magnitsky law, we need to make some kind of bureaucratic job inside of EU to be much more effective.

Can we hope that the EU will be able to change this mechanism in the near future?

I hope so, since the Magnitsky regulation was introduced quite effectively, which means that there is political will inside of the EU among member states in order to be more effective in defending human rights and democracy in such countries like Belarus or Russia, especially when people are fighting with very brutal authoritarian regimes. Now, we have a second step to do – to look at what I can call the instrumental or bureaucratic part of this sanctions mechanism, which needs to be upgraded, which needs to be much more modernised and again, I will repeat, much more centralised. It should not depend so much on the willingness or capacity of individual member states to push some new sanctions.

We know about a lot of negative events in Russia and Belarus – arrests, imprisonment of Navalny and so on. But do you see a positive message in this? Do you feel that we can really expect positive changes in these countries?

It is a good question because usually when we are talking about Belarus and Russia everybody starts to speak about the persecution, cruelty of the regime and so on. But from the other side, we need to see very clearly very important and I would call very positive developments that people have started to demand change, have started to demand democracy. Of course, totalitarian, dictatorial regimes are not giving rights that people are demanding but that is a totally new development in the whole post-Soviet area. In my opinion, this development is, first of all, unavoidable. I mean that people are demanding change, people are demanding democracy, and this development will not be stopped by anybody.

It can be delayed by regimes, it can be painful. We should be very happy if the blood will be avoided. But to stop this change when people are starting to demand democracy is impossible. And democracy, as we can see, is really enjoyed by Ukrainian people. Now, Belarusian people are starting to demand the same, and now Russian people are following, so when somebody is saying that democracy is not for Russia, they are making a big mistake. Democracy really is very much needed by the Russian people and they will achieve what they want.

Many observers talk about the influence of Belarus on the events in Russia. But do you see also Ukraines influence?

Definitely, if you are watching Russian protests now, demonstrations in different cities, you can see almost the same patterns that we have seen last year in Belarus. Almost the same language, the same slogans. If Belarusians were demanding “Lukashenka leave,” now Russian people are demanding “Putin leave” in all the demonstrations. I see here two forces of inspiration for Russian people. One is what Alexey Navalny was doing and is doing, everything that is connected with Navalny: poisoning, then his arrest, etc. and also very, very powerful Youtube movies – both on his poisoning, how the regime was trying to poison him and all this richness of the castle – that’s one thing. But another thing is very clear, especially when we are talking with Russian representatives from the regions during the last online conference. We also talked about this with Zhanna Nemtsova at the other seminar: all the people say that they are very much inspired by recent developments in Belarus.

On Ukrainian influence, I would say that yes, in general, I see the very important influence of Ukraine, not maybe in the style of how democracy was achieved in Ukraine with Maidan, with all the victims. But in that belief in Belarus and also in Russia that if Ukraine is able to live with democracy and it is able to decide what European type changes and how they should be implemented, that’s what Russian and Belarusian people are seeing as a good example, that’s what Ukrainians want. I would say that that influence is really very big, and it will continue to be very important for all the developments in this area, post-Soviet area.

Natalia Richardson

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