RIGA - The three Baltic States may barely make up one per cent of the EU’s total population, but when Russia announced on Friday May 29 that 89 officials from across the EU were blacklisted, it turned out that 20 of them were from the Baltics.
Whether for business or for pleasure, none of these officials can now visit Russia.
Moscow drew up the list as a response to the EU’s own sanctions and travel bans on Russian officials, which the EU had put in place to penalise involvement in Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Dutch Prime Minister Rutte said on Friday May 29.
“Russia yesterday handed over a list of people to diverse EU embassies who may not enter Russia any longer,” Rutte told reporters, adding that two Dutch MPs and a Dutch MEP were on the list.
Among the 89 blacklisted are 5 Latvian officials, 7 Estonians and 8 Lithuanians.
Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkevics, in reaction to Russia’s release of the names of 89 EU politicians blacklisted, criticized Moscow’s methods, first saying that the five Latvian officials also have done nothing to warrant being barred from entering Russia.
Besides, Moscow made its list long ago but made it public only now, Rinkevics told LETA news agency, saying that it is a pity that Russia has such a different approach: the EU drew up its entry ban list against Russia in the wake of Crimea and the Ukraine conflict and made it public immediately.
Rinkevics mentioned the incident involving the Latvian European Parliament member Sandra Kalniete, when she was en route to Moscow for the funeral of the murdered Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov earlier this year, only to be turned away at the border.
“There are more individuals who have been banned, but who are not on this list, including a few researchers, and NGO representatives from different EU member states,” Anke Schmidt-Feltzmann, a researcher in the Europe programme at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs in Stockholm. tells The Baltic Times.
Although this is another example of Russia playing “tit for tat” with the EU, Schmidt-Feltzmann points out there are fundamental differences that should not be ignored. While the EU has gathered a lengthy paper trail to support its blacklist of Russian officials, and allows those on the list to appeal against the EU’s decision in court, those on the Russian list have not been granted any such privilege so far, and the reasoning behind their featuring on the Russian blacklist is far from clear.
Those on the Russian blacklist “are being accused, among other things, of having instigated a revolution in Ukraine. It is difficult to see how this could hold up in an independent court,” Schmidt-Feltzmann adds.
According to information obtained by LETA, the Latvian politicians now openly barred from Russia are Unity leader and the chairwoman of the Saeima National Security Committee Solvita Aboltina, as well as four European Parliament Members - Sandra Kalniete, Artis Pabriks, Inese Vaidere, and Roberts Zile.
Yet Russia’s blacklist is a self harming measure, according to Estonian Foreign Minister Keit-Pentus Rosimannus.
“This is yet another unfriendly step by Russia, but we cannot say that such behaviour by the leaders of Russia would surprise, rather, that list is one in a string of several other unfriendly steps. It is clear that by establishing such a list, Russia is the loser, not the people who are in the list,” said Pentus-Rosimannus, who had summoned the Russian Ambassador to discuss this.
Estonians in the list include Justice Minister Urmas Reinsalu, European Parliament member Tunne Kelam, former Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland, Defence Forces Commander-in-Chief Lt. Gen. Riho Terras, his deputy, Brigadier General Arthur Tiganik, head of the Security Police Arnold Sinisalu and Defence League chief Meelis Kiili.
Badge of Pride
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite is unfazed by the blacklisting of her country’s politicians, believing that those who have been blacklisted should wear it as a badge of pride.
“As far as I know, the list is made of the most famous European politicians.” the president told reporters on June 1. “I can only rejoice at the fact that even my advisor is on the same list with such famous names as, for example, [former Swedish Foreign Minister] Carl Bildt - It is, in fact, great appreciation.”
The Lithuanian officials on the list include the Lithuanian Conservative party’s founding father Vytautas Landsbergis, Liberal MEP Petras Austrevicius, Chairman of the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission Edmundas Vaitekunas, former chief of State Security Department Gediminas Grina, Conservative MP Andrius Kubilius, head of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defence MP Arturas Paulauskas, and presidential advisor on foreign affairs Jovita Neliupsiene.