Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What's sauce for the goose ...

There is a battle going on in the EU about sanctions to be imposed on Belarus and its unquestionably oppressive and kleptocratic government.
Mid-level diplomats will this week discuss who else to add to the Belarus sanctions list when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Friday (23 March).

EUobserver understands the provisional roll-call includes oligarch Yuriy Chizh, several companies owned by another regime billionaire, Vladimir Peftivev and a handful of officials. Peftiev is already under a visa ban and asset freeze, along with three of his firms - a decision he is currently fighting in the EU court in Luxembourg.

"You wouldn't believe how many [people] have come through here," a senior EU official told this website on the queue of NGOs, diplomats and companies telling him in recent weeks why Peftiev should be let off.
The article lists various reasons why Peftiev probably should stay on that list if there is such a list but also mentions that among various organizations that are arguing for his removal is at least one supposedly "anti-Lukashenka" NGO.
"I have not seen any evidence that Peftiev should be on the list. It's the police, the KGB, and the judges that should be on it," a contact from one Prague-based 'anti-Lukashenko' NGO told this website. A Brussels-based 'anti-Lukashenko' NGO recently sent a letter to EU officials containing 25 names - including Peftiev - of people who it says were put on the register unjustly.
This blog's opinion is that it is probably best not to take sides in the murky dealings between government, NGOs and oligarchs unless there is clear-cut evidence one way or another. Certainly, Vladimir Peftivev seems to be up to his eyes in business that, at least, in principle we in the West do not approve of:
He is the majority shareholder and chairman of Beltechexport, the country's largest weapons manufacturer. It makes aircraft, armoured vehicles and small arms. But its main business is to act as a middleman between Russian arms firms and dictators in Africa, Central Asia, south-east Asia and South America. The US says it has sold weapons to Iran and North Korea.

"It would be a further blow to [Russian President] Putin's reputation to have Russia sell its own weapons directly to these regimes in violation of international prohibitions. So Belarus does it for him," Stanislav Shushkevich, a former Belarusian head of state, told EUobserver.
I am not convinced Soon-To-Be-President Putin cares all that much about his reputation about selling arms "in violation of international prohibitions". It is not as if there was any mystery about the fact that he sanctions the operations or, at the very least, shrugs his shoulders in a typically Russian way.

What has caused a certain amount of distress is the role of Latvia and Slovenia.
EU diplomats say Latvia has now joined Slovenia in trying to protect him.

The two countries are willing to agree to the new EU sanctions but only if selected Chizh companies, which do business with their own firms, are left alone. In one example, Chizh is working with a Slovenian company, Riko Group, to build a luxury hotel and electrical sub-stations worth €157 million.
Latvia is barely emerging from a severe economic crisis and there may be a feeling that economic sanctions against firms that are willing to invest in the country is not a very good idea. Slovenia may look with some trepidation at other eurozone countries.

No, this blog is not advocating dealings with clearly dishonest firms from countries where the overwhelming proportion of the economy is owned by an oppressive kleptocracy that passes for a state. On the other hand, it might be a good idea to look at the way other countries behave.

Belarus is not the only country with those problems; there is another one, a larger one slightly further to the east. Is Germany likely to participate in any kind of sanction against Russia? Is Britain, come to think of it?

We can see the answer to that, if we look at the appalling Magnitsky case (about which I shall write in greater detail). Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for a British firm, tried to prevent its theft and the use it was put to to steal many millions of rubles from the Russian treasury by various members of the FSB and the Ministry of Finance. For his pains he was imprisoned, kept in confinement for a year, tortured and, finally, murdered. The names of the people who were involved in the theft and Magnitsky's murder are known and it would be easy to put them on a list of people who are not allowed into this country together with their immediate families. The FCO is refusing to do so because a move of that kind might prejudice Anglo-Russian business links.

I cannot help thinking that the expulsion of British businessmen, the theft of their company to be used for fraudulent tax rebate and the murder of their employee ought to prejudice those relations more but, apparently, the FCO thinks otherwise.

ADDENDUM: This, on the other hand, is inexcusable, no matter what decision our own despicable FCO might take:
Long before Lithuania and Poland handed over confidential information to Belarusian authorities which led to Bialistki's arrest, Natalia had begun preparing herself for what she saw as the inevitable day when police would drag him off.

Alex Bialitski is a Belarusian human rights activist, leader of the group Viasna (Spring), who is serving a four and a half year sentence of hard labour.
For the past 15 years, Viasna has provided practical support for families and victims of political oppression. It is one of the few voices that still makes itself heard in the cacophony and white noise of President Alexander Lukashenko's regime. Every year it publishes a book-length analysis of human rights violations in Belarus. Every year it gets longer.

It has a long history of run-ins with the KGB.

When it was banned from receiving international funding, it opened bank accounts under Bialistki's name in Lithuania and Poland. In March last year, authorities in both countries handed over those very bank account details to Belarus.

Ausra Bernotiene, the former head of the international law department at Lithuania's ministry of justice, who delivered the information, has since resigned and now heads the international relations unit at Lithuania's national court administration.
There are, apparently, people who think her decision had been a genuine mistake and she was made a scapegoat when the whole mess was uncovered. A mistake of that kind would indicate a complete inability to understand the international situation and a complete unfitness for any position to do with international affairs. Given the position Ms Bernotiene ended up with, scapegoat is not precisely the word I would use. Let us also consider the fact that her husband is partner in a legal firm that does extensive business with Belarus.

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