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Ms President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
The arrest, on live TV, of the Russian opposition politician Mr Alexei Navalny upon his return to Moscow last Sunday is unacceptable, both to Europe and also to the international community which believes in the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Yesterday, I issued, on behalf of the European Union, a declaration with a clear message that we condemn the arrest of Mr Navalny and that we stand in strong solidarity with him. The President of the European Union Council and the President of the Commission also issued a statement in this sense.
Mr Navalny’s rights must be fully and unconditionally respected and enforced. Politicisation of the judiciary is unacceptable.
We call upon the Russian authorities to release Mr Navalny, as well as all those journalists and activists who have been detained in connection to his return.
Honourable members, let me also share how glad I am that Mr Navalny recovered from the severe poisoning in August last year. My biggest recognition goes to all those, especially the medical staff and the team around Mr Navalny, who have been treating and supporting him during the last months.
As I said in our plenary discussion on the case of Mr Navalny that we had here in September, the EU condemns in the strongest possible terms the assassination attempt, through poison using a military chemical nerve [agent] of the “Novichok” group.
As a reaction, the European Union responded by imposing, in a swift manner, restrictive measures on six individuals and one entity, in October last year, involved in the assassination attempt. These are highly-ranked officials in Russia, including the Director of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, the FSB.
As you know, any further decision on sanctions is for the Council to take.
I am looking forward to this discussion, very timely about such an important issue.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-201220
Thank you Ms President, thank you to all of you for your participation in this debate.
The question [you have posed] is: What is the timeline for the European Union to continue addressing this matter further, in what fora and doing what?
First of all, the arrest of [Mr Alexei] Navalny will be discussed in the relevant bodies in the Council. We expect it to be raised under current affairs at the upcoming Foreign Affairs Council on 25 January.
We will continue following closely the situation and consider its implications. Any further sanctions listings, as some of you have proposed, are subject to a decision of the Council by unanimity, on the basis of proposal by Member States.
We have called and will continue calling on the Russian authorities to investigate this crime thoroughly and transparently, and to fully cooperate with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which Convention [on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction] Russia has signed, and to ensure an international investigation.
In calling for a joint response, the European Union will do whatever it takes, including through restrictive measures, if the Member States consider them appropriate - and it will be discussed in the next Foreign Affairs Council.
Some of you have been raising the issue of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. You know the situation of Nord Stream 2: this is a project of a group of private firms, and the Commission has on voiced several times that it considers that this pipeline does not lead to diversifying the energy sources of the European Union. This is one of the objectives of our Energy Union, and this project is not in the framework of our objectives. But we cannot prevent the companies from building it, if the German Government agrees with that. Should these companies finalise the pipeline, they should know that they will need to operate in line with European Union law. This is the most that we can do at the European Union level.
Does the arrest of Mr Nalvany has any other implications for the European Union-Russia relations more broadly?
You know that our relations with Russia are based on the five guiding principles, as reaffirmed by the European Union Foreign [Affairs] Ministers at the 12 October Foreign Affairs Council. As I explained after this Council, the whole EU-Russia relationship cannot be reduced to the poisoning of Mr Navalny.
We have responded swiftly and decisively to this poisoning, but we have other dimensions in our relation with Russia that we need to continue to address, such as, for example, the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. We maintain open channels of communication with Russia to enhance engagement on issues of common interest.
The five guiding principles approach gives this possibility, in order to continue defending our interests and values - for sure including the respect for international law and fundamental rights.
I think that, at this moment, this is everything that I can say. Let us see what the Member States decide to do and how the discussion goes at the next Foreign Affairs Council, in order to know which are going to be the following steps.
In any case, we are putting all the political pressure in order to get the freedom of Mr Navalny and I will continue to do so by the ways and means that I consider appropriate.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-201242