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Sanction pro-war Russian parties – POLITICO

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Damian Boeselager is Volt Member of the European Parliament. Dmytro Natalukha is a member of the Ukrainian Parliament.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia has targeted residential areas and civilians. Russia’s armed forces have committed war crimes, using nuclear blackmail and destroying critical infrastructure to leave Ukrainians without heat and light as the winter months approach and temperatures below zero.

The Russian regime that commits these crimes, however, does not exist in a vacuum. He relies on a network of loyal political parties under his control, which support his corrupt regime. And it’s time we realized that.

Parties like President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia are centralized networks of regime officials and supporters spread across the country. In fact, according to state news agency TASS, United Russia alone has more than 2 million members. School principals, university professors and even managers of public services are obliged to join the party, so that they can have access to the advantages of the scheme.

These are the cogs that allow Putin’s political regime to function and stay in power: a school principal who forces teachers – sitting on election commissions – to falsify election results; a factory manager who encourages his employees to vote for the “good” candidates and organizes meetings; a university rector who spreads regime propaganda or expels students with dissenting opinions, and so on.

And in this way, the Russian political parties played a decisive role in making possible the aggression against Ukraine.

Just as they did with Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008, they approved aggression and the use of force against Ukraine, approved the illegal annexation of the regions of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk, and they voted almost unanimously to recognize the independence of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and the “Luhansk People’s Republic” — both integral parts of Ukraine under international law.

Additionally, United Russia members also include celebrities like former Arsenal star Andrey Arshavin and singer Yulia Volkova, who despite supporting the regime, still face no existing sanctions.

United Russia has already opened offices in the occupied territories of Ukraine and started recruiting for the war – yet most of its members are among the least affected by Western sanctions. Meanwhile, previous personal sanctions mainly affected senior officials or influential oligarchs who are not necessarily party members and are less affected by sanctions against the Russian economy due to their wealth and status.

It would therefore be logical to sanction pro-war parties. And once this decision is made, there are several ways to implement it.

First, there are more than 77,500 members of regional parliaments and local councils in Russia, most of them representing United Russia or other pro-war parties – not to mention regional governors loyal to Putin. Their names are public and they can easily be added to the sanctions list. Last week, the European Parliament called for such measures in its resolution declaring Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.

Second, Russian celebrities who profess loyalty to the regime and support the war on Ukraine are easy to identify from their public remarks and social media posts.

Andrey Arshavin, a member of the United Russia party and former Arsenal star, has not been targeted by Western sanctions despite his support for the regime | Victor Boyko/Getty Images for Nike

Finally, anyone entering the European Union could be required to declare that they are not a member of a pro-war political party. Providing erroneous or inaccurate information would then lead to legal sanctions against offenders.

In doing so, however, we must also put in place safeguards to ensure respect for human rights law. Before the effective application of any restrictive measure, a grace period should be provided to allow members of parties that do not support the war in Ukraine to officially end their membership.

Those who refuse or fail to leave the parties then face EU sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes. It should be impossible for them to use the services of Western banks, airlines, lawyers, hotels, financiers and real estate agents, for that matter.

Adding pro-war political parties to the sanctions list would draw a clearer line between the victims of the regime in Russia and its active supporters. It would also disrupt the routine of Russian elites, making it difficult to travel abroad, or their ability to buy property there or send their children to Western schools.

With such an impact on their lives, some may ultimately be discouraged from supporting the Kremlin, ending a social contract that has contributed to the slaughter of Ukrainians. And this could shake up the ruling class. Artists, entrepreneurs, lower-ranking officials, and employees of state-owned enterprises who directly or indirectly supported the war and are used to receiving Kremlin benefits might actually feel the consequences of their actions.

Political parties are the backbone of Putin’s regime. Sanctioning those who support the aggression and genocide unfolding in Ukraine could be a game-changer when it comes to accountability – and it could finally pierce the illusions of the Russian elite.

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