Vladimir Putin talking with Igor Krasnov at the Kremlin in 2020. Kremlin photo.

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Critics say Maros Zilinka’s visit to Moscow endorses the brutal methods of Russian law enforcement. From Dennik N.

Transitions editor’s note: This commentary from the Slovak news site Dennik N has been updated to reflect Zilinka’s visit to Moscow and other events since it was published on 5 January.

Just a few days after criticizing Slovakia’s proposed defense agreement with the United States, Slovakia’s Prosecutor General Maros Zilinka was due to attend the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the establishment of the Russian prosecution service. 

Prior to the trip, scheduled for 11-13 January, Zilinka’s office said it had been planned for a long time. Representatives of 34 countries and international organizations such as the Council of Europe, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the International Association of Prosecutors were expected to attend.

Defense Committee Head: Zilinka Behaves Like Russians

Last week, the chairman of the Slovak parliament’s defense and security committee compared Zilinka’s methods to those of Russian prosecutors. In a Facebook post, Juraj Krupa of the co-governing OlaNO party said Zilinka’s comments on the proposed U.S. defense agreement reminded him of “how Russian prosecutors also influence public debate.”

“I do not wish to speculate but it is possible that such statements will help the Prosecutor General look more interesting” during the celebration in Moscow, Krupa said.

Juraj Seliga, a deputy for the opposition For the People party, called on Zilinka not to travel to Moscow. “If you appreciate democracy and human rights, if you support the rule of law, you cannot attend this celebration in Russia,” he wrote, going on to say that Russia limits personal liberties and persecutes political opponents, while its secret service assassinates Russians abroad and the prosecutor’s office does not disavow the Stalinist period.

Zilinka previously met with Krasnov on a visit to Moscow in July, when he spoke of his interest in strengthening cooperation.

[At a meeting with Zilinka today, Krasnov said they would soon sign a two-year agreement on cooperation between their agencies, Krasnov’s office announced. Krasnov also met with Slovenia’s chief prosecutor Drago Sketa today. Belgium’s Frederic Van Leeuw also was present at the ceremonies, according to a Kremlin press release.]

EU: Krasnov Is a Rights Violator

According to Grigorij Meseznikov, director of Slovakia’s Institute for Public Affairs think tank, the Russian prosecutor general’s agency is part of a repressive mechanism that violates human rights. “Obviously, this is no independent body working to protect constitutionality, but rather a tool for imposing politically motivated steps aimed at maintaining power in the hands of the current governing corporation composed of former officers of the KGB and the FSB [the Soviet and Russian intelligence agencies],” the political scientist said. According to Meseznikov, this precludes the chief prosecutor of Slovakia, or any other EU member, from acting in any way as a partner organization of their Russian counterpart.

Maros Zilinka posted this photo of the events in Moscow on his Facebook page.

Meseznikov said the very commemoration of the Russian prosecution service’s 300th anniversary is a relatively shady affair. “You can probably imagine the type of institution that was the prosecutor’s office established by Czar Peter I in 1722. Even though formally this was an introduction of structural elements common to Western countries at the time, Peter I’s regime was violent and despotic.” Peter the Great is often seen as a “westernizer” of Russian society, but he was really a tyrant who had his political opponents decapitated, Meseznikov said.

“The fact that a representative of the prosecutor general’s office of an EU member state would appear at this celebration is, I think, a terrible faux pas, and not just historically,” he said, adding that Russia behaves as an enemy state towards both NATO and the EU. “What would the people who are now serving time as Russia’s political prisoners say about this? Estimates suggest there are some 1,000 of them, plus you have those who are persecuted in other ways. People are being called foreign agents, NGOs are being shut down.”

Last March, Krasnov was included on the EU’s sanctions list, alongside Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin, National Guard commander Viktor Zolotov, and Federal Prison Service head Alexander Kalashnikov. They were listed “over their roles in the arbitrary arrest, prosecution and sentencing of Alexei Navalny, as well as the repression of peaceful protests in connection with his unlawful treatment.”

European Council press release said the Russian officials were responsible for “serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as widespread and systematic repression of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and freedom of opinion and expression in Russia.”

Zilinka: U.S. Agreement Would Limit Our Sovereignty

On 4 January, Zilinka criticized the proposed defense agreement with the United States, announcing that his office had “submitted 35 fundamental objections, meaning it rejects the draft agreement as a whole.” Such “defense cooperation agreements” have already been signed by most NATO countries.

“The draft agreement steps outside the legal framework of the NATO [accession process], because it also regulates a number of situations under which it is proposed that the Slovak Republic give up the prerogative to perform its sovereign state power in its own (sovereign) territory,” his office commented.

The prosecutor’s objections also enter the territory of international politics, claiming, for example, that the agreement is unbalanced. “The commitment of the two contractual parties to common defense according to their needs is not emphasized, which seems to be in stark contrast with the benefits of the other party,” Zilinka’s office objects.

Pavel Macko, the former deputy commander of the Slovak General Staff, suggests that Zilinka should instead try to ensure that the agreement with Russia, allowing the presence of Russian officers at Slovakia’s airbase in Sliac, also prohibits Russia from bringing Novichok to Slovakia.

Macko, who is currently leader of the small Civic Democrats of Slovakia party, also emphasizes that the draft agreement with the United States is public and can be commented on, whereas the agreement with Russia is not publicly available.

Until just recently, it looked as if the only people opposed to the U.S. defense agreement would be elements of the opposition, as well as a number of pro-Kremlin actors. They have already signed online petitions against the draft agreement and submitted a number of objections.  Former Prime Minister Robert Fico, the leader of the [opposition, populist] Smer party, is particularly critical.

[The government approved the defense agreement with the United States on 12 January. It must now be signed by President Zuzana Caputova and then ratified by Slovak lawmakers.]

Milo Kern writes for Dennik N mainly on politics and public finances. He is a former Czech Press Agency correspondent in Slovakia and Austria.

Vladimir Snidl was a founding editor of Dennik N in 2015. His reporting focuses on military procurement, transport issues, and the spread of disinformation.

Translated by Matus Nemeth.