EU leaders stay mum on Russia election result as Salisbury attack case escalates

Written by Martin Banks and Julie Levy-Abegnoli on 19 March 2018 in News

Results from this weekend’s election confirm that Vladimir Putin will serve a fourth term as Russian President. Officially his vote share - in an election in which strong opposition had not been allowed - was put at more than 76 per cent.  

Vladimir Putin | Photo credit: Press Association images

On Monday, world leaders congratulated President Putin on his election for a new six-year term but so far no Western leaders have responded to his victory.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country’s partnership with Russia was at its “best level in history”.

Tensions between Russia and the West have deepened in recent weeks after the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain, which the UK government blamed on Russia.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, arriving for a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, questioned the fairness of the election and said Russia would remain a difficult partner, but added, “We want to remain in dialogue.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, meanwhile, focused on the poisoning, which she condemned as “absolutely unacceptable”.

Responding to the result, ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt said, “Putin used intimidation, ballot stuffing and evident procedural irregularities. [Prominent Putin critic] Alexei Navalny was even barred from running. Is this his vision for his country and society? A prosperous and democratic Russia can’t rely on its foundations being these values and principles.”

Reinhard Bütikofer and Monica Frassoni, European Green Party co-chairs, said, “Let’s not kid ourselves about the seriousness of these so-called elections that were neither free, nor fair.  Any real opposition to Putin was crushed in its infancy and what remained was not credible.

“The end–result is another six years of autocratic leadership on Europe’s doorstep and the potential for the further degradation of relations between Russia and the West.

“There are many reasons to fear that President Putin will continue a foreign policy that creates tensions and conflict. For this reason, the EU member states must show unity and strategic clarity vis-à-vis Russia.”

In an interview with German newspaper Bild over the weekend, EPP group Chair Manfred Weber said, “Putin is leading a modern war against the West. A line has been crossed. We Europeans need to wake up and stop being naive: our lifestyle is under attack. We have to defend ourselves.”

Commenting on the Salisbury attack, the S&D group’s Vice-Chair on foreign affairs, Victor Boştinaru, said, “The use of a chemical weapon in the UK is a source of great concern for the EU as a whole, and the S&D group stands by the UK following this intolerable event. 

“If it is confirmed that Russia was behind the attack, this would take Russia’s already existing external interference to a much higher and absolutely unacceptable level, with the use of chemical weapons on the soil of a member state. We strongly condemn the attack, and we call for all the necessary investigations to be carried out and those responsible to be held to account.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, has claimed in a television interview that the chemical used to poison a former Russian spy in England had come from a British-based lab.

Chizhov added that Russia had “nothing to do” with the poisoning of Skripal, 66, a former intelligence officer, and his daughter Yulia, 33, while talking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr on his Sunday show.

The pair were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury town centre on 4 March. Tests later found they had been poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent known to have been produced in the Soviet Union.

When asked about how the chemical may have wound up in Salisbury, Chizhov said, “When you have a nerve agent or whatever, you check it against certain samples that you retain in your laboratories.

“And Porton Down, as we now all know, is the largest military facility in the United Kingdom that has been dealing with chemical weapons research. And it’s actually only eight miles from Salisbury.”

Chizhov was then asked if he thought Porton Down scientists were responsible for producing the nerve agent used in the attack. He told Marr, “I don’t have evidence of anything being used.”

Later, on the same show, UK foreign minister Boris Johnson branded the ambassador’s comments as “inappropriate” and “misleading.”

He also claimed that, contrary to what the ambassador had said in the interviews, there was evidence the Russian Federation had been stockpiling such chemicals “for years.”


About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

Julie Levy-Abegnoli is a journalist for the Parliament Magazine

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