EN | 03/03/2021 by ERIK


Thanks to the arrest of Alexei Navalny, Russia has become a topic that’s on everyone's mind lately. Of course, Navalny is only the latest major player in a bloody conflict that has been going on for some 20 years now… Because even though Russians and Europeans share a huge amount of common ancestry, history, beliefs and ideals, there has been a mostly low key, but sometimes hot “cold war” going on between the Russian Federation on the one hand and the E.U. on the other. This conflict has been going on for some two decades now, and examples of it are legion: from Russian nuclear bombers that are regularly sent flying into European skies, a long-running trade conflict between the Netherlands and Russia, which included the impounding of a Dutch ship in St. Petersburg, the shooting down of MH17 by Russia-backed “rebels” in Eastern Ukraine (and the E.U.’s weak response to that), threats issued by Putin to invade different parts of Europe, including the Baltic States (which even led to the creation of a satirical Estonian board-game called ‘Seltsimees Puu Eestit vallutamas’, or in English: ‘Comrade Pu conquers Estonia’), threats to cut off Europe’s Russian natural gas supply and let the Europeans freeze to death in winter, all the way to the conquest of the Crimea, the absolute lack of EU-leadership in the drama surrounding the Euromaidan and the whole bloody conflict in eastern Ukraine, the past decades have seen an ever growing amount of conflict between Russian government on the one side and the EU on the other.

In a nutshell, this could be explained by Europe’s increasing influence and ambitions in the East (but held back by its muddled and ineffective leadership) colliding with Russian concerns for their national interest and the wish to renew their historic (but much disputed) leadership in eastern Europe, which is a desire that has resurfaced after Russia emerged from its chaotic and incomplete transition from communism to capitalism/liberal democracy (which can be honestly said to be far from there yet…) which allowed the Russians to reorganize and focus their strength on their ambitions in the West.

Russia’s actions of the past 20 years on the European continent, fueled by Putin’s mad ambition to dominate Europe, clearly demonstrate that Putin’s Russia is not a friend of the EU, to put it mildly. This is why it’s good to have a new democratic leader in Russia who has worked hard to uncover the corruption of the Russian government: Alexei Navalny. That is also why it’s good to have a political movement in Europe that looks beyond the petty local interests of the member-states, but also sees the big picture: That Europeans need to be able to come together to to defend themselves and their ancient values of liberty, democracy and human rights against brutal foreign tyrants. This is exactly why we need a United Europe. And why you need to tell your friends, family, colleagues or mates why a united Europe is not just good, but vitally important for our common security! 

So, we're talking about the new ‘Cold War’ that has been raging between Russia on the one hand and the EU on the other. Many things have been done in the 20 years of this “informal” yet titanic struggle, from the invasions of Crimea and Georgia, via the poisoning of the KGB defectors Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei & Yulia Skripal, to the nuclear bombers that are regularly sent flying into European (including Belgian!) airspace; and much more... However, the latest shot to be fired in this second ‘Cold War’ comes in the form of Alexei Navalny: A Russian human rights’ lawyer, politician and the face of the Russian opposition against Putin. 

If there is one man of whom Putin is afraid, it is Alexei Navalny. Why? Because more than any other opposition politician in Russia, he has been able to reach those Russians who are unhappy with the autocratic rule of Putin’s Imperial Presidency. More than any other opposition politician, he has shown to be able to organize protest marches and demonstrations and mobilize ordinary Rurssians to take a stand against corruption and injustice. More than any other Russian, he has been able to embarrass Putin’s government by going to the European Human Rights Court to (successfully!) fight his sentence after being first convicted by a Russian court on a politically motivated fraud charge. If there is one man who could beat Putin in a fair election, it is him. 

This is why they fear him.

This is why he was barred from running for president in 2016, because he had “a criminal record”.

That is why the Russian authorities are trying everything they think they can get away with to stop him from bringing much needed change to Russia, the fundamental democratic change the Russian apparatchiks dread from the soles of their army boots, because they know their corruption will no longer be tolerated in this new Russia.

I take an unbending, hard line on the defence of human rights, transparency in government and democracy, both inside and outside the E.U. This is why we support Navalny in his efforts to expose the deeply rooted corruption in the Russian government. This is also why we support the people of Russia in the many “illegal” demonstrations they have organised to fight for the release of Navalny. Due to the distance between Brussels and Moscow, we (obviously) cannot be there in person to help the protestors; but what we CAN do is this: We can help the cause of freedom and democracy by spreading their demand far and wide over Europe: Freedom for Navalny! 

Europe has already saved his life once (when German doctors helped him after Russian intelligence operatives poisoned him), now let us put pressure on the EU to demand his freedom as well! What can you do? Contact your own national or European members of parliament (through social media, letters, phone, whatever) and remind them that a democratic, free Russia that is willing to work with Europe rather than oppose us is in everything is in our own best interest.

As has been reported on the news, Alexei Navalny (who has become pretty much the face of Russia’s democratic opposition to the reign of Putin) was arrested by the Russian authorities as soon as his plane touched down in Moscow. Where did he come from? From his stay in a hospital in Berlin, where he was recovering from the Soviet-ear nerve agent Novichok with which he was poisoned while on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow in August 2020, after which Navalny was flown straight to Germany - even though his Russian doctors said (quite wrongly, it turned out) he was too weak to travel…  Here, in the heart of one of Europe’s many great capital cities, he was nursed back to full health by the German doctors and nurses, who, quite literally, saved his life. 

Last week, however, on the 17 of January 2021, after being released from hospital in Berlin, Navalny returned from Germany back to Russia - probably feeling that he couldn’t do much to fight for democracy in Russia while being confined to a bed in Berlin. After leaving the German hospital where he was brought back to full health, it was reported that he gratefully thanked his German nurses and doctors, praising them for their unexpected friendliness and sense of humour, noting that the Russian stereotype of Germans as a people “who never smile, don’t want to be friends, but only like to wage war and give and follow orders” is far, far from the truth. After heartfelt goodbyes and upon landing in Moscow, though, he was promptly arrested by Russian government operatives, “awaiting his trail”.

At this point we cannot say exactly what will happen now to Alexei Navalny. We know that he has been incarcerated by the Russian authorities on the bogus charge of “leaving Russia while on probation” - which he only did to save his life after he was poisoned - and has been sentenced to three years in a labour camp… We hope that the international attention he has received over the past few months and the fact that even in the West he’s now the “official face of the Russian opposition” will do much to restore his freedom, or even keep him alive in his Russian gulag. We also support the brave Russian protestors who have gone out in the Russian winter to join the massive “illegal” demonstrations to demand freedom for Navalny.

We don’t know what will happen next as it’s largely in the hands of the Russian government now. Nevertheless, we are happy that Alexei was able to enjoy Europe’s hospitality for a while and carry back a good report of his new European friends: Because things have changed, because this is the new Europe, where values are more important than borders, because we are no longer each other’s enemies. 

As a free European citizen, I believe that Putin is not a democratically elected president who can be held accountable by either the popular vote or Russia’s court system, but an autocrat who pretends to respect democracy but is willing to do whatever it takes to stay in power. We also support Alexei Navalny 100% in his efforts to expose corruption and wrongdoing in the Russian government (which includes the murder by poison of various other dissidents and KGB defectors) and to modernise Russia’s fledgling democracy. After all, as Europeans we know what it is like to live under a political system that is far from perfect (think of the unelected EC, for instance). That is why I believe that the EU should take on a far, far larger role in organising Europe’s common response to Russia’s anti-democratic activities, instead of leaving it all up to the individual member states. In the short term, this is why we want the EU to follow the German example to support Navalny in whatever way we can, but in the long term, this is also why we argue for the adoption of a common European foreign policy and a common European defence. So we, as Europeans, can come together to defend our ancient homeland and our traditional values of liberty, democracy and human rights against any foreign tyrant. After all: A truly democratic and fair Russia is in Europe’s best interest.

So what can YOU do? Contact your own national or European members of parliament (through social media, letters, phone, whatever) and remind them that a democratic, free Russia which is willing to work with Europe rather than oppose us is in our own best interest. Tell them also that a common European defence strategy is the only way to defend Europe against meddling by foreign powers like Russia, China and the US. And spread the word of freedom and democracy!