ST. PETERSBURG, April 12 (RIA Novosti) – Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko lashed out at European politicians at an international conference in St. Petersburg on Friday, claiming Russophobia in the Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe (PACE) was obstructing Russian-European cooperation and suggesting the EU’s stance on visa requirements and human rights was hypocritical.
“Not so long ago, our partners reprimanded the USSR for ensconcing itself behind an iron curtain and violating one of the fundamental human rights – people’s freedom to leave and return to their country,” Matvienko said at the conference, titled “The Role of Parliamentary Organizations in the Construction of a Europe without Dividing Lines” and attended by representatives of PACE. “Today Russia proposes abolishing visa requirements entirely, but certain Western European countries have shown that they are not ready for this.”
Matvienko accused her European colleagues of devoting a lot of attention to democracy in Russia while ignoring human rights issues in EU countries, in particular the problem of the Russian-speaking population of Estonia and Latvia without citizenship, whom Russia describes as “stateless.”
The Human Rights Commissioner said in January this year that there were 304,000 “non-citizens” in Latvia and 92,000 “aliens” or “persons of undetermined citizenship” in Estonia. Many of these are ethnic Russians who remained in the Baltic States but were not granted citizenship after those countries gained independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Matvienko also claimed Russophobes in PACE are obstructing Russian-European cooperation, saying “statements made in certain discussions are reminiscent of the Cold War era.”
Moscow has made visa-free travel with EU a foreign policy priority. Russia submitted a draft deal on scrapping the visa regime to the EU at a Russia-EU summit in 2010, but the EU has been reluctant to move ahead with the issue amid concerns that it could lead to a rise in crime and illegal immigration.
Last month, the European Commission published a list of common steps toward a visa-free regime with Russia. The steps include a requirement for both Russia and the EU to ensure document security and fight illegal migration, transnational organized crime, terrorism and corruption.