EU Firms Must Back Human Rights

Today the European Voice is running an interview they did with me. The story was also picked up in MOSNEWS.

Khodorkovsky lawyer says EU firms must back human rights By Simon Taylor The lawyer representing jailed former Yukos chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky has called on European businesses to join the fight for human rights and the rule of law in Russia to protect their own interests. Robert Amsterdam, the lawyer for Khodorkovsky, who has been held in jail in Siberia on charges of tax evasion and fraud and embezzlement, said: “European business has to understand the fight for human rights is their fight.” In an interview with European Voice he said that the recent murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, whose investigations into the conflict in Chechyna upset the Kremlin, was a threat to “every businessman” working in Russia. Amsterdam strongly criticised the approach of EU leaders including former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac of separating human rights concerns from energy issues, saying it had allowed corruption to take hold in Russia, which is now ranked 151st in the World Bank list of countries by transparency. Schröder had “let his wallet” deprive him of any authority, Amsterdam said. The former German chancellor, who was appointed head of the supervisory board of a consortium which will build a controversial pipeline to bring Russian gas across the Baltic to Germany, had done a “dirty deal” and given up democracy for stability in Russia, said Amsterdam. Khodorkovsky’s lawyer singled out recent comments by Schröder saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “dyed-in-the-wool democrat”, saying they were contributing to the “very serious” situation in Georgia where Russia has imposed an air and postal embargo. Khodorkovsky’s lawyer said, however, that Europe had “not completely ceded its voice”, saying that German Chancellor Merkel was trying to take a new approach towards Russia. But he added that Merkel was being “obstructed” by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was chief adviser to Schröder when he was chancellor. “The willingness to stay silent [on human rights and failure to respect the rule of law] empowers Gazprom and harms the European energy [sector] because of the bribery and corruption,” he said. The lawyer criticised the EU’s focus on energy security concerns because it treated the issue as a “zero sum game” where Europeans tried to impose rules on Russia to protect European interests. Instead, he argued, it was in Russia’s own interests to have more transparency and effective rule of law in the business sector because Russian companies needed “massive investment” in modernising extraction and distribution capacity to ensure that they could continue to exploit their assets in the future. Russia was guilty of a “lack of strategic thinking”, he said, pointing to the decision not to allow international companies to exploit the Shtokman gas field in the Barents Sea, after a long bidding process, as an example of “arbitrary decision-making”. This would harm Russia in the long run as it urgently needed foreign investment but investors would be put off by a lack of transparency and the failure to ensure the rule of law was applied. There was still a chance to put pressure on Russia to change its ways, said Amsterdam, but the EU needed to act now before Russia had other options of whom to sell energy to. “In five years time they can start selling to Asia,” said Amsterdam. Failure to act would play into the hands of Gazprom which was pursuing a strategy of “pre-emption”, said Amsterdam, by buying into downstream assets in the European distribution market. When decisions were being made in the future about where to buy energy from, those decisions would be made by companies owned by Gazprom, he said. © Copyright 2006 The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved.