Today there was a notable exchange between PM Vladimir Putin and EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso, when the latter raised his concerns over the murder of Stanislav Markelov and other notable human rights abuses occurring in Russia.
In my opinion, it was about time that Europe woke up to the fact that it is not OK, it is not normal for the leadership of any country to say nothing about the assassinations of human rights lawyers in broad daylight on the sidewalks on their capital. We can only hope that this is the beginning of a new dialogue and a greater interest in the plight of the Kremlin’s victims, and not the last word.
Putin, however, had one of his Kursk moments, and briefly lost his temper with a person he is said to regard as a mere European bureaucrat. What made Putin the most angry was the fact that Medvedev was not present to take the blame. This is, as far as I know, the first time we have seen how disturbed and panicked the Kremlin is over the murder of Markelov. From what we know from media reports, the only other names which raise a similar reaction are “Mikhail Khodorkovsky” and “Anna Politkovskaya.”
From the Financial Times:
In a press conference during a visit to Moscow on Friday he sparredwith the Russian prime minister, a sign that relations between Russiaand the EU remain tense following the January gas crisis which leftlarge parts of Europe without heat for days.
“Europeanpublic opinion remains concerned about the recent events in Russia,such as the murder of journalists and human rights workers,” said MrBarroso.
That provoked an angry response from Mr Putin, whochastised Mr Barroso for making his criticisms without Russia’spresident Dmitry Medvedev in the room. “Mr Barroso had his discussionin the Kremlin, and made his announcement here, where PresidentMedvedev is not present and cannot give his side on this question” saida visibly furious Mr Putin.
There was more on the incident from the Moscow Times, about Putin’s reaction to Barroso’s criticism by pointing to the mistreatment of ethnic Russians in Baltic states:
A visibly irritated Putin responded by saying that Europe should nottalk down to Russia and accused the EU of violating the rights ofethnic Russian minorities, immigrants and prisoners.
“We are not satisfied how the issue of Russian-speakingpopulations in the Baltics continues to be solved,” Putin said. “Weknow about the rights of immigrants in European countries and how theyare violated. We know about the situation in the penal systems in someEuropean countries, and we have the same kinds of problems.
“We believe in the need to discuss the entire spectrum of problems in Russia and in EU countries,” Putin said.
In an emotional reaction, Barroso said he had informed Medvedevabout the “concern” that the recent murders of “some journalists andsome human rights activists” have prompted in Europe. (…)
Barroso went on to give an impassioned speech, saying people weremore important that diplomatic protocols and insisting that Europe isopen to criticism.
“We don’t pretend to be perfect,” Barroso said. “We accept criticism.”
When Barroso finished, Putin suggested — first through atranslator and then in English — to end the discussion, after which thetwo proceeded to address the importance of bilateral ties.
Photo: EU Commision President Manuel Barroso (L) and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir PutinReuters Pictures)address reporters in Moscow February 6, 2009. The European Union metRussia on Friday for their first high-level talks since a price disputebetween Moscow and Ukraine led to the most serious disruption toEuropean gas supplies for years.(