The Russian Federation banned eight EU citizens from visiting the country on Friday, among them is Czech Vice President of the European Commission Věra Jourová. Moscow says this is in retaliation to EU sanctions issued in March. Ms Jourova believes she was put on the list due to her role in upholding human rights and combating disinformation.
Věra Jourová, the Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, is among the highest ranking EU officials to be banned from visiting Russia on Friday. Others include David Sassoli, the president of the European parliament, and Jacques Maire, a member of the French delegation at the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly.
A statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry in conjunction with the ban accused the EU of “openly and deliberately” undermining the independence of Russia’s domestic and foreign policy, as well as pursuing “illegitimate, unilateral restrictive measures against Russian citizens and organisations”.
In reaction to the Kremlin move, Ms Jourová told Czech Radio’s flagship station Radiožurnál that she believes her inclusion on the list is likely caused by her focus on human rights and her work in combating disinformation.
“I guess they noticed my work in Russia. I am a long term critic of what the Russian Federation is doing, specifically pro-Kremlin information sources in the Czech Republic and in other EU states. I stood behind Poland when Russia launched a disinformation campaign against that country connected to its World War Two past. Furthermore, the protection of human rights is another topic where I made myself quite clear. In some sense, it is an award. It is clear that someone has noticed me in Russia and that I am doing something.”
The European Commission Vice President said that her strong reaction to the evidence that Russian intelligence officers were likely behind the 2014 explosion at the Vrbětice munitions depot may also have played a role.
The move has since been condemned by leaders of both the European Council and the European Commission, who called the action “unacceptable, [lacking] any legal justification and entirely groundless”.
Ms Jourová said that she was grateful for the support. She also hinted at the possibility that the EU’s list of sanctions on Russia could be expanded.
“I will not tell you any concrete steps, but I think that the time is right for a re-evaluation of the current situation. We saw a sign of this in the resolution of the European Parliament which looked into issues such as nuclear energy and energy in general, as well as questions of security and cyber security, which are currently very relevant. We have records and evidence showing that cyberattacks directed at the EU largely come from Russia. Such issues deserve analysis, reflection and a political stance. I think it will be a topic at the meeting of EU leaders on May 25.
It is believed that the Russian ban is a reaction to earlier EU sanctions this March on four Russian officials after the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, as well as on two Russians accused of persecuting gay and lesbian people in Chechnya. Asa Scott of the Swedish Defence Research Agency, who helped confirm that Navalny was poisoned by the Novichok nerve toxin last year, and Berlin’s public prosecutor Jörg Raupach are also on the list.