Europeans criticised the deterioration in political freedoms in Russia in 2012, with Germany becoming one of the more critical member states, but did not take further action.
In 2012, the EU sharpened its focus on human rights and the rule of law, but it did not manage to arrest or even slow the deterioration of political freedom in Russia. After demonstrations were allowed to proceed during the first few months of the year, a crackdown started after the elections. In early May, demonstrations were again broken up by force and many activists were detained and charged for economic crimes or for plotting to organise riots. In August, a Moscow court passed a two-year-long jail sentence for three members of the punk group Pussy Riot (one of them was conditionally freed in October), who were arrested in February after performing a song criticising the closeness between President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church in a prominent Moscow cathedral. Most importantly, Russia passed several notorious laws that restrict freedom of assembly, re-criminalise slander, and hamper work conditions for NGOs.
Europeans were vocal in criticising these developments in Russia. The EEAS played a significant role by coordinating the writing of a human-rights report on Russia. It also convened two rounds of the human-rights consultations – both in Brussels in 2012 because Russia refused to hold it in Moscow. Member states also demonstrated greater unanimity than in the past. Potentially significant is Germany’s criticism of developments inside Russia, which became more vocal in 2012. In November, the Bundestag adopted a critical resolution and there was a sharp exchange between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Putin a few days later. Many smaller member states such as Sweden also adopted a noticeably principled stand.
However, Europeans did not take any further action such as the adoption of the “Magnitsky law” to discourage perpetrators of human-rights violations inside Russia. Although the Dutch parliament and the European Parliament pushed the issue, Europeans did not move forward with such legislation, unlike the United States, which in December legalised visa and asset bans on Russian state officials involved in the murder of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.