‚Merciless‘ Autocrats: EU Hits at Russia and Myanmar Over Human Rights Violations

Written by | Friday, February 12th, 2021

European Union leaders have condemned the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny and a recent military coup and detention of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar. “They are merciless,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told the European Parliament on Tuesday (9 February), after making a rare visit to Moscow last week to plead for Navalny‘s release. According to the EU’s top diplomat, Putin’s regime was increasingly authoritarian and showed no tolerance of democratic rule of law, warning that a new round of sanctions was a possibility, which will likely further heighten West-Russia tensions. “The current power structure in Russia, combining vested economic interests, military and political control, leave no opening for democratic rule of law,” Borrell said.
The former Spanish foreign minister’s visit to Moscow on Friday (5 February) – the first by a top EU envoy since 2017 – was designed to deliver a “clear message” to Russia over issues of human rights and the arrest of Navalny. Borrell had already called for Navalny’s “immediate release,” but Moscow warned the diplomat against trying to use the meeting to further attempts to secure his freedom. Borrell also hoped to garner cooperation with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, over issues such as climate change and reviving the Iran nuclear deal. But Russia-EU tensions spiked after Moscow expelled three European diplomats during his visit, accusing them of taking part in pro-Navalny protests. EU foreign ministers will debate possible sanctions against the Kremlin on 22 February at a meeting in Brussels.
European leaders were also quick to condemn the military coup in Myanmar last week (1 February), but it looks likely to take them significantly longer to agree on any action against the junta that has detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won elections in November last year. And while US President Joe Biden called on the Myanmar military to “immediately relinquish” power and pledged to review US sanctions, the EU‘s the main options range from extending sanctions on top generals to limiting some of Myanmar’s preferential trade terms. For now, EU diplomats say they are using “the typical diplomacy toolbox” on the Southeast Asian country, which means starting with political appeals that can then advance to include further sanctions.
Meanwhile, the putsch leaders in Myanmar are insisting they will stay in power for 12 months under a state of emergency decree. The military government have also blocked Facebook and other social media platforms in a bid to quell dissent after detaining the country’s elected leaders and seizing power in a coup that the United Nations chief said must fail. Police in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw were reported to have fired gunshots into the air on Tuesday to disperse demonstrations against the ruling military, as protesters defied bans on gatherings amid nationwide outrage at last week’s coup. One witness said demonstrators were running away as weapons were fired into the air, but not in the direction of the crowd.

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