Russian official snubs meeting of "Russophobic" Europe lawmakers

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 27, 2012 7:20 AM
Russian official snubs meeting of "Russophobic" Europe lawmakers

By Gabriela Baczynska

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A senior Russian official said on Thursday he would skip a meeting of European lawmakers next week because of "Russophobic" attitudes among them, in a fresh sign of tensions between Moscow and Europe.

Russia has rejected European criticism of its human rights record and of the two-year jail sentences handed to members of punk band Pussy Riot last month for a protest against President Vladimir Putin in a church.

Parliament speaker Sergei Naryshkin, a member of the ruling United Russia party, was to have been a key speaker at the October 1-5 session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg, France.

"But as the session's opening was nearing we felt that key strategic proposals of mine would not be heard by a number of leaders of the Parliamentary Assembly and a number of Russophobic delegations," Naryshkin said in televised remarks.

"I came to the conclusion that it will be possible for me to address a PACE session (only) when the conditions are suitable," said the chairman of the State Duma lower house.

Critics of United Russia, formerly headed by Putin and now by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, say it is helping orchestrate a Kremlin clampdown on dissent by hastily passing restrictive legislation, such as laws tightening controls of Internet and foreign-funded NGOs and increasing fines for protesters.

State-run RIA news agency reported that the rest of the Russian delegation would take part in the PACE session, which is due to discuss Russia's adherence to its obligations as a Council of Europe member, including over human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law.

Russia has made some "very positive steps", but some measures introduced raise serious concerns, PACE said in a document posted on its website.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said this month that Russian authorities had been "chipping away" at fundamental rights and freedoms since Putin's return to the presidency in May.

(Editing by Pravin Char)