Russian Trojan Horse? – Croatia’s EU Presidency Could ‘Hand Russia the Keys to Europe’

Written by | Thursday, January 16th, 2020

In February 2019, Theodore Karasik, the Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Lexington Institute and a national security expert, warned in an op-ed for Euronews that Croatia’s biggest trial of the decade could hand Russia the keys to Europe. Now, less than a year later, he warns that “Russia may well have those keys – and might be on the brink of using them to unlock Putin’s longstanding plans to destabilise the EU”. In his latest op-ed published in Euronews Theodore Karasik writes that “the pivotal event comes in the form of Croatia’s ascension to the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which could pose a grave threat to the integrity of the EU system and trans-Atlantic alliance.”
Just days before Croatia took its position in charge of the EU, the country’s biggest trial came to an abrupt conclusion with the announcement of the court ruling against head of Hungarian energy group MOL, Zsolt Hernadi, who was found guilty of bribing former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader to allow MOL to take control of Croatian state energy firm INA. The problem is that two renowned legal experts, appointed as independent Trial Monitors in the decade-long legal battle, have accused Croatian state prosecutors of “bias,” breaching EU fair trial standards and violating the rights of the defendants – apparently to cover-up a covert Russian lobbying operation to control a gas transshipment route to Europe.
I have read the 182-page interim report, and it corroborates in unnerving detail many of the questions and concerns I raised previously in my Euronews op-ed about this trial. The first point to note is that the Trial Monitors who wrote the report hail from the top echelons of judicial expertise in Europe. Ambos and Anderson were appointed to audit the fairness of the criminal proceedings under explicit instructions to act independently of any of the parties in the case. Their conclusions raise stark questions about the corruption of Croatian institutions under the influence of Russian interests. The Trial Monitors accuse the Croatian court of “bias” in favour of Croatian “national interests” and breaching internationally-recognised fair trial standards, “including violating Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).” Their report lists a litany of procedural irregularities, described as violating the “fair trial rights” of the defendants.
In themselves, these grave irregularities beg the question as to how a country whose judiciary is believed by top legal experts to operate with no respect for EU fair trial standards could end up holding the very EU presidency itself. But the trial monitors’ report goes further, alluding to the geopolitical backdrop of Russia’s efforts to co-opt Croatia as an entry-point into EU energy markets. In short, the report provides alarming documentary evidence of Croatian judicial corruption under the abiding influence of Russia. It also suggests that Croatia’s EU Presidency could pose a serious risk to European security. The Council of the European Union is already viewed as lacking accountability due to excessive secrecy. The EU must ensure that Russia does not leverage its influence in Croatia to exploit its EU presidency as a proxy for Russian energy interests.

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