A letter from the Kremlin on the desk of MEP Andrius Kubilius. One of the regime’s representatives, outraged and insulted by the politician’s words related to the infamous Russian PMC Wagner wants to send Kubilius, his colleague Viola von Cramon, and the European Parliament (EP) itself to Russian courts for trial. Moreover, each is to be fined 10 million roubles, Andresa Repšytė writes in TV3.lt
“I found the envelope in my mailbox on Wednesday, so that’s the reaction – a little smile, a tilt of the head, that’s all. Then last night, I told my colleagues. On the one hand, it is amusing that the Kremlin is trying to engage in such actions here, but on the other hand, it is not very often that you receive such letters from Russia, where you are promised a fine of 10 million roubles, courts, and are demanded to retract the words that supposedly offend them, although my words are a repetition of the words of United Nations observers,” A. Kubilius told the news portal tv3.lt.
The context of the letter is that a Kremlin representative, who claims to be the head of an organisation, says that Kubilius’s words at an EP meeting on 25 November last year about the Wagner military group, which is known in the international community as a criminal group, allegedly discredit the honour and dignity of the Kremlin.
“Everyone knows who the Kremlin’s ‘Wagner’ group is and what war crimes they have committed in Crimea, the Donbas, Syria, Libya and the Central African Republic. Torture, murder, sexual violence, mass executions, kidnappings, etc. This is an organisation of the Kremlin’s proxies, an authorised military force, with clear elements of a criminal group in its activities,” said Mr Kubilius.
“The letter demands 10 million roubles each from me, Viola von Cramon, and the EP for damages because we allegedly defamed that leader, although what his links are with the Wagner group remains unclear, he does not state it. Although, as he describes in his letter, he is the head of an organisation called Sotrudnichestvo. He claims to have a contract with the authorities of the Central African Republic, training the army and police. He also says that they are not committing any crimes and that they are the only military operating in that Central African Republic, and that our words have defamed and insulted them,” says Mr Kubilius.
The parliamentarian calls the referral to court and the warning of a fine of 10 million roubles (EUR 141 000) for speaking out absurd. He claims that he had no previous knowledge of the person in question or of the organisation he heads.
“We were talking about the Wagner group, what the international press says. I had no information about the specifics of how Wagner operates in the Central African Republic. Now I have started to understand more from this letter,” he explains to tv3.lt.
The Wagner group is a private company with close ties to Putin and his projects around the world. It is owned by oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is close to Putin, but no one doubts that it is a non-state arm of Moscow. Its hit men carry out various covert operations in Africa and the Middle East and were responsible for fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
A kind of “reward”
When asked what he thinks of the Kremlin’s desire to convict him, the MEP jokingly replies that it is a kind of “reward”.
“Yesterday, my colleagues were jealous, they said that in a way it was like a reward for me for my work in caring for the prospects of democracy in Russia and fighting the Putin regime. […] This is not the first such award, because, in 2015, I was already blacklisted and banned from entering Russia, which did not make me very sad. And now they will start dragging me through the Russian courts, so this will be a new phase,” says Kubilius.
Ironically, he also says that he will look for “10 million roubles in support” to pay the fine.
“I am thinking that maybe Russia is so poor, it has become so frightened by the war, that it needs to get those roubles by all means,” Kubilius joked.
On Wednesday, MEP Rasa Juknevičienė also wrote on Facebook about the letter Kubilius received from the Kremlin.
She joked that she, together with MEP Aušra Maldeikienė, felt unappreciated and very jealous.
“Breaking news! Seriously. Kubilius is to be tried. By Wagner. That is, the Kremlin. And he, the snake, only showed the letter now, after he drank half a pint of beer. But the letter is real. For speaking badly about the Kremlin’s thugs,” wrote Juknevičienė.
When asked what action he plans to take and how he plans to react to being sent to Russian courts, Kubilius confirmed that he will not do anything for the time being.
“I also did not have time to ask my colleague what she plans to do, nor did I ask the leadership of the EP, because they are also going to be punished. The legal fact itself is, of course, ridiculous, the appeal itself is ridiculous. I do not know why this leader needs it, maybe he wants to prove to the Russian people that he is defending his honour and dignity,” he said.
D. Žalimas: no need to pay attention to such referrals
According to Dainius Žalimas, former chairman of the Constitutional Court, the authoritarian regime is trying to suppress its critics not only at home but also in the international arena by such actions and court summons. Therefore, he said, it should not be taken seriously.
“This is simply persecution. It makes absolutely no difference what the Kremlin says. One thing is clear: they want to persecute people, in this case, MEPs, who are critical of Russian aggression, ideology in general, and anti-democratic activities in general,” said Žalimas.
According to the expert, all summons to Russian courts should be ignored because they have no prospects in the international arena.
“It is clear to everyone that no one will issue any international arrest warrants for anyone. Even if they were asked to detain such people, countries would not respond. Apparently, this fact shows that the Russian regime is ready to persecute its critics. I believe that there will only be more facts like this as long as that regime is alive. On the other hand, it makes a mockery of the regime itself. It is simply not possible to take such accusations and such cases seriously,” confirms Mr Žalimas.