In a clear insult to President Vladimir Putin’s actions against Russia’s biggest domestic foe, Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader, was given Wednesday the top European Union human rights prize.
Navalny was awarded the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament. He was poisoned last year with nerve agent and immediately arrested after returning to Moscow. Later, he was imprisoned.
“He has been a consistent campaigner against the corruption of Vladimir Putin’s regime and through his social media accounts, political campaigns, and abuses, Navalny helped expose them and mobilise support from millions of Russians across Russia. He was poisoned and sent to jail for this,” said David Sassoli, president of parliament.
Sassoli demanded Navalny’s immediate release.
Russia and the 27-nation bloc will continue to deteriorate relations with Navalny. These ties have been in decline for many years, particularly after Moscow’s 2014 annexe of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
The EU was not the only one to feel its impact.
The Russian mission was suspended at NATO, and the NATO office in Moscow was closed in retaliation. The chief of the organization said that he accepted the news.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the prize was a recognition of a strong voice in Russia. He stated that the prize was also an appeal for his unconditional release from prison and for an “international investigation” into it.
Stoltenberg reminded NATO that the treatment of Navalny was part of a “pattern in which we see that Russia is becoming more oppressive at home, and more aggressive elsewhere.”
Russia’s treatment for Navalny only made matters worse. The EU has called for his unconditional and immediate release from what it considers a politically motivated prison and said that it holds Moscow accountable for his well-being.
Six Russian officials were sanctioned by the EU last year for their involvement in the poisoning Navalny. The Kremlin denied any involvement.
Despite the ongoing standoff between Moscow and Brussels, the European legislators’ decision to award the prize to Navalny brought it back into the center of the political debate.
Sergey Lagodinsky from Germany, Greens/EFA MEP, said, “It’s an important signal, even to the Kremlin that the EU won’t give in to pressure or blackmail or be tricked by empty promises.”
Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s most senior associate, said that the prize demonstrated that hundreds of legislators from different countries and parties have reached a consensus on the issue of fighting corruption as an issue for Europe. He also stated that Navalny is “political prisoners No. 1. in the world, and Putin’s personal prisoner.
He posted on Facebook, “Europe understands we are fighting for Russia to become a normal European nation, which it will be, and supports it.”
Josep Borell, EU’s chief of foreign policy, tweeted that the prize was a recognition that Navalny “committed to defending democracy and Russia, at great personal risk,” adding that the EU would like his “immediate & unconditional release.”
Navalny’s award of the prize “will keep him in the news,” which is important for his supporters, stated Ben Noble, an associate professor at University College London.
It is unlikely that it will improve his prison conditions or help his situation “as they currently stand,” said Noble, co-author of “Navalny, Putin’s Nemesis and Russia’s Future?”
He told The Associated Press that the negative implication of this could be that it adds to Moscow’s narrative of foreign interference and what they claim to be a concerted Western attempt in interfering with the country’s internal affairs.
The European Parliament will present the 50,000-euro ($58,000.00) prize at its December 15 session in Strasbourg, France. Others include a group made up of Afghan women and Jeanine Anez, a former Bolivian President and imprisoned politician.
Women from Afghanistan, which include journalists, human rights activists, and cultural figures, were also strong contenders. Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August, the fate of Afghan women has been front and center.
Despite their initial promises to respect the rights of women and especially education, the Taliban have been criticised by the United Nations for not keeping to these commitments.
Named after Andrei Sakharov (Soviet dissident), the EU award was established in 1988 to recognize individuals and groups that defend fundamental freedoms and human rights. Sakharov was a Nobel Peace Prize winner who died in 1989.
It was the second consecutive year that it went to leaders who challenge authoritarian regimes. It was awarded to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the leader of the Belarus opposition, and President Alexander Lukasenko last year for challenging his rule.