Several years ago German MEP Rebecca Harms did not think that specifically she will become one of the most outspoken critics of Vladimir Putin when it comes to questions of European security. Now, however, the co-chairwoman of the Greens–European Free Alliance admits that everything was changed by the events in Ukraine.
During her recent visit R. Harms did not forget her main focus, namely nuclear energy for which she is well known in the European Parliament. The politician opposes nuclear power and supports the closure of nuclear power plants, particularly in her home Germany.
R. Harms has warned Lithuania over the European Court of Auditors proposal to halt the financing programme of Ignalina nuclear power plant from 2020, as well as those in Bulgaria and Slovakia.
Based on the proposal, the power plant closure could be financed from European structural and investment funds which are especially important to the Lithuanian economy. Furthermore the states would have to commit to strict project schedules and would have to partially finance the works.
The auditors note that the three countries have created a temporary waste processing infrastructure, however most of the projects, particularly that of Ignalina, were late, with the expected date of closure moving up by nine years, up to 2038.
Lithuania spent several years disputing with the project’s main contractor – the Russian capital German Nukem Technologies and GNS consortium, which produced poor quality containers for nuclear fuel, furthermore the contractors demanded further payment for tasks which increased in price and were supposedly late due to the fault of Lithuania.
The German politician points out that she always spoke for ensuring funding for the closure of Ignalina NPP, but her calls were outvoted in favour of other projects, such as ones regarding the social consequences of closure.
Currently 80% of the funding for the closure of Ignalina NPP is from the EU, but this funding has only been promised up to 2020. Lithuania has dedicated around 1.5 billion euro, while based on the European Court of Auditors the power plant needs another 1.56 billion euro to be closed.
In the Kremlin “blacklist”
Nevertheless in recent years R. Harms has been more noted as a critic of the Kremlin and supporter of Ukraine, her stance on these questions often coincides with that of Lithuania, albeit the German politician did not go as far as President Dalia Grybauskaitė in describing Russia as a terrorist state.
She does, however, stress that the events in Ukraine are a war against a sovereign European state. Harms visited Avdijivka which has recently come under fire from pro-Russian separatists. The politician explains that this has allowed her to better convey the situation to colleagues in Brussels and Strasbourg, where the Ukrainian conflict is often forgotten, with even calls to soften or cancel sanctions on Russia.
The German MEP stresses that even such considerations are a sign of the EU’s weakness, particularly given Russian occupation and war against a sovereign country, going as far as disregarding the Minsk agreements. This could help Putin to fracture the EU, she notes.
For such a stance the politician has received a sort of “favour” from the Kremlin, being one of the first Western politicians to be barred entry to Russia, something she found out about in September 2014 after arriving in Moscow during the trial of Nadia Savchenko.
At least seven Lithuanians are also included in the list. Among them is MEP Petras Auštrevičius, former Conservative leaders Andrius Kubilius and Vytautas Landsbergis, former foreign policy advisor to the president and later Lithuanian ambassador to the EU Jovita Neliupšienė, former head of the State Security Department Gediminas Grina, head of the Lithuanian Commission of Radio and Television, which barred broadcasts of certain Russian televisions in Lithuania, Edmundas Vaitiekūnas and former chairman of the Seimas Committee of National Security and Defence Artūras Paulauskas.
Supporting strengthened sanctions
The Kremlin’s actions have not dissuaded R. Harms that just discussing whether sanctions are justified is simply an invitation for Russia to continue its strategy of dividing and conquering.
“Moscow can see that certain EU leaders do not take the sanctions seriously. Where will those discussions take us? True, I believe that Ukraine needs peace because it is very difficult to undertake reform under a state of war.
On the other hand the Kremlin has no interest in supporting peaceful reform and is actually striving to fuel war by all possible means. Europeans should understand this clearly when speaking to Russia,” R. Harms stated, stressing that she is surprised by some Europeans’ view that the conflict in Ukraine is a conflict of equals where both are justified in their own way.
This view is actively disseminated by Russian propaganda tools and is gradually spreading into European political discourse. R. Harms believes that nevertheless, many people in Europe are now aware that Russia is tampering with Europe’s internal affairs, trying to expand its influence and attempting to corrupt important elections ranging from the UK and supporting Brexit, later potentially in the USA presidential elections and now potentially in France and Germany.
Admitting naivety over Russia
Somewhat unusually for a member of the Greens–European Free Alliance R. Harms supports the construction of a firm European security system supported by NATO. Unsurprisingly during her visit to Lithuania the MEP visited the German troops forming the basis of the NATO battalion stationed in the country.
She points out how this is received with some controversy in Germany where many feel it is a provocation of Russia while they are not aware of the Russian movements at the EU’s Eastern borders. The MEP notes that many are only now becoming aware of the Russian information war against Europe and its employment of propaganda. With Russia being well prepared for hybrid warfare, Europe has to be mindful of its security and take a lesson from the events in Ukraine, the Balkans and Moldova.
She admits that earlier she would never have thought or publically supported the expansion of Europe’s defensive capacities, but the events in Ukraine changed everything. R. Harms recalls how she was not familiar with the growing power of Russia prior to the events in Ukraine and how both the Baltic States and friends from Ukraine sounded warnings on Russia well before the events in Crimea and admits they were right. Now security questions have become existential for Europeans.
“For example in Lithuania you understand Russia far better due to your experiences. Meanwhile in the European Parliament not all of my colleagues understood why I am so concerned with Ukraine. Of course even now not all of the Greens support my ideas and strategy,” R. Harms said.