As most followers of Russian news know by now, opposition leader and activist Alexei Navalny was detained immediately upon his recent return to Russia, after a 5-month absence due to his recovery in Germany from nerve agent poisoning. It is widely suspected that the Russian Security Service (FSB) is responsible for the poisoning, though officials have denied any role in the attack.

Navalny’s detention has drawn nationwide criticism and unprecedented protests. Waves of protesters continued to take to the streets, openly and aggressively challenging President Putin’s authority, despite massive arrests. The protests are not just about Navalny- the Russian people appear to be at a boiling point over continued human rights violations in general, and about President Putin’s reportedly lavish lifestyle specifically.

And while it initially appeared that the protests would lead to renewed interest in European sanctions against Russia, it now seems that talk of sanctions is on hold.

Bill Browder, the outspoken Putin critic, and force majeure behind the U.S. Magnitsky Act pointed out that the European Union is still planning to send its foreign policy chief to Moscow next month and that the discussions about the contemplated EU version of the Magnitsky Act are not immediately going forward. Browder sees the writing on the wall for a “total EU capitulation.”

So how does all this relate to INTERPOL and Red Notices? It is well-known that Russian INTERPOL abuse is a global problem. The American Security Project correctly pointed out in 2019 (see the previous link) that Russian officials use INTERPOL to enlist other countries’ assistance in oppressing political opponents:

… [R]ather than engaging in cloak and dagger tactics, the Kremlin has another largely “legal” way of dealing with enemies outside its borders. Using Interpol, it has found a way to elicit the cooperation of foreign governments in hunting down or detaining its adversaries.

One of the criteria that INTERPOL considers in determining whether a Red Notice is politically motivated or not is the position taken on the matter by other INTERPOL member countries.

Thus, if European countries refuse to openly address and condemn Russia’s human rights abuses, they also miss an opportunity to distinguish themselves as countries that honor their commitment to upholding the human and due process rights that they committed to when they joined INTERPOL. They miss the opportunity to send a signal to INTERPOL that they will not cooperate with Russian authorities who obtain invalid Red Notices against political opposition members, journalists, or dissidents. They miss the opportunity to simply do better at protecting human beings from political persecution.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.