European Council on Foreign Relations

Navalny: playing with fire in Moscow

Once again, I happened to be in the right place at the wrong time – this time exactly two weeks too early. It was the 4th of July, and I was meeting with a colleague on Manezh Square in Moscow. We sat on a bench overlooking Tverskaya street, watching the setting sun and the unusually relaxed city traffic. It was a warm and lazy evening, with tired tourists walking to and from Red Square, children playing in fountains, and young people sipping beers in the shade of the trees in Alexander garden. Everything was calm and slightly sleepy; one could not feel a trace of the passions that had filled the streets of Moscow during the political season of the last two years.

Earlier that day, I met with a young university professor who came to pick me up in a car adorned with a white ribbon – the symbol of previous protests - and a sticker that announced the United Russia party to be “a

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Rome view: getting our own house in order

Welcome in Europe, Croatia! This week a new country joined the EU, and I hope others will follow - including Turkey. To join the EU, these countries will have to undergo complex accession negotiations. Europe requires the highest standards on many issues, and rightly so. But once you are in, who takes control? Who monitors that all the tough requirements are not only on papers but also implemented? 

On human rights, where Europe is considered a champion and whose protection and promotion is a pre-requisite for accession, Member States have demonstrated that sometimes they take a break from their promises. Look at Hungary, or Sarkozy and the Roma case.

You could also look at the long situation of (in)justice in my own country, Italy: last week, while the United Nations celebrated the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the Italian Council of Ministers passed a

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An inconsistent appeal for consistency over Israel/Palestine

In his new ECFR report on the Middle East Peace Process (“Europe and the Vanishing Two State Solution”) Nick Witney argues that the EU’s policy on Israel is fatally tainted by double standards: while declarations might be tough, actions do not follow. Such inconsistency, he convincingly argues, is both in conflict with the increasingly anti-Israeli attitude of European public opinion, and undermines the credibility of European external policy in general. He suggests a number of punitive measures, from separate labeling of products from Israeli West Bank settlements to imposition of visas on settlers and more.

My critique is not about Israeli policies. There is indeed plenty to criticise there, while any defense would miss the point of Witney’s argument: the promotion of European, not Israeli interests. I believe, however, that the policy shift Witney proposes would be harmful to

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Counting Belarus’ political prisoners

As the EU-Eastern Partnership summit, scheduled to take place in Vilnius at the end of November, approaches, a heated debate has been going on about the possible participation of official representatives from Belarus. Those who would normally get the invitation –President Alyaksandr Lukashenka or foreign minister Vladimir Makey – are both on the EU’s visa ban list, which makes their participation in Vilnius highly improbable. Some EU states suggest that the foreign minister’s name is suspended from the list so that he can attend the summit; others insist that the Belarusian authorities should not be engaged unless all remaining political prisoners are released and rehabilitated. The EU is of course right to push the regime to free those who rot in jail for their political activities. But just how many such prisoners are there in today’s Belarus? And would their rehabilitation really

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To divorce the Kremlin and live

Vladimir and Lyudmila Putins’ announcement of divorce on Thursday was one of the rare pieces of good news coming out of Russia these days; and a historic one at that.

Sure, divorce is normally not considered good news; and above all it is a personal matter. But what is a personal decision for the Putins is also a historic step for Russia. Remarkably, Lyudmila Putina is now likely to become the first person ever to divorce a Russian ruler and go on living in freedom.

There is no need to mourn the Putins’ marriage: their alienation has been obvious for many years; their children are adults; and Lyudmila has been visibly uneasy whenever she appears in public together with her husband. If anything, formal separation was overdue. But in properly authoritarian countries heads of state rarely divorce – they either stay married regardless of anything, or their spouses die in unclear

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